Research shapes safe dentistry during COVID-19

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Photo: Dmitry Kalinovsky – 123rf

Leading research from the UK has been used to shape how dentistry can be carried out safely during the COVID-19 pandemic by mitigating the risks of dental aerosols.

In a study published in the Journal of Dentistry, a team at Newcastle University has revealed that aerosol generated procedures such as fillings and root canal treatment can spray aerosol and saliva particles from dental instruments large distances, and that contamination varied widely depending on the processes used.

The team used the tracer dye, fluorescein, while carrying out aerosol-generating procedures on a dental mannequin to analyse how far and where aerosol particles and saliva travelled from the patient’s mouth.

A range of procedures were done, and the effect of suction and ventilation analysed. Experts looked at contamination close by and also in an open plan clinic.

In the open clinic settings, the team found dental suction substantially decreased contamination at sites further away from the patient, such as bays five meters away. Often these distant sites had no contamination present or if contamination was detected it was at very low levels, diluted by 60,000-70,000 times.

It was also found that after 10 minutes, very little additional contaminated aerosol settled onto surfaces and therefore this was a suitable time to clean a surgery after an aerosol-generating procedure.

“When the pandemic began, dental services were significantly reduced and there was an urgent need by the profession to focus on how dental clinics could work in a safe environment for patients and staff,” Dr Richard Holliday said.

“We now have a much greater understanding of where the splatter of aerosols go and how far they travel during different procedures and settings, allowing clinical teams to make informed decisions to protect people.”

Further research will continue to focus on where aerosol and droplets from dental instruments travel and how far they go. Experts will also look at how long aerosols hang around in the air and examine a number of common dental procedures and methods of controlling aerosols.

A key part of the research will investigate if viruses can be carried in dental aerosols, and if viruses remain infective at a distance from the procedure. This will help experts to understand how to reduce the risk of microbes, like COVID-19, being spread by aerosols during dental treatment.

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