Dental procedures during pandemic are no riskier than a drink of water, study finds

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A new study out of the US dispels the misconception that patients and providers are at high risk of catching COVID-19 at the dentist’s office.

SARS-CoV-2 spreads mainly through respiratory droplets, and dental procedures are known to produce an abundance of aerosols—leading to fears that flying saliva during a cleaning or a restorative procedure could make the dentist’s chair a high-transmission location.

Ohio State University researchers set out to determine whether saliva is the main source of the spray, collecting samples from personnel, equipment and other surfaces reached by aerosols during a range of dental procedures.

By analysing the genetic make-up of the organisms detected in those samples, the researchers—who have published their findings in the Journal of Dental Research—determined that watery solution from irrigation tools, not saliva, was the main source of any bacteria or viruses present in the spatter and spurts from patients’ mouths.

Even when low levels of the SARS-CoV-2 virus were detected in the saliva of asymptomatic patients, the aerosols generated during their procedures showed no signs of the coronavirus. In essence, from a microbial standpoint, the contents of the spray mirrored what was in the office environment.

“Getting your teeth cleaned does not increase your risk for COVID-19 infection any more than drinking a glass of water from the dentist’s office does,” lead author Professor Purnima Kumar said.

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