In collaboration with a team from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Fontinos Panagakos, DMD, PhD, associate dean of research at West Virginia University (WVU) School of Dentistry in Morgantown, is studying respiratory exposures generated during dental procedures. The investigation was sparked following a suspicious number of diagnoses of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) in dental professionals at a Virginia clinic. A chronic lung disease, IPF has no cure and is generally fatal.
In 2018, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified a cluster of dentists who died of IPF between 2000 and 2015. Of the 894 patients diagnosed with IPF who had sought treatment at a Virginia tertiary care center, eight were dentists and one was a dental technician. Seven of the nine dentists in the report died of IPF. The findings reinforced the need to better understand occupational exposures faced by oral health professionals, and the association between these exposures and the risk of developing IPF.
In order to determine how dental teams are exposed to vapors, gases, and what the researchers describe as airborne dusts, investigators will measure the size and concentration of particulates in real time during common dental procedures at five WVU teaching clinics and 29 private dental clinics. Metals, dust, silica, anesthetic gases, and volatile organic compound samples will be analyzed, and the chemical composition of the particulates and gases will be characterized as part of efforts to better understand the potential ramifications of these exposures.
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