Occupational Safety in the Dental Industry
Occupational Safety in the Dental Industry
Dentistry involves exposure to several potentially dangerous elements including infectious materials, hazardous chemicals and bloodborne pathogens. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has a list of federal guidelines for employers to require training for all the workers that may be exposed to any of these conditions.
Most Common Safety Hazards in Dentistry:
- Beryllium: is a substance that is silvery-white and hard that is used as an added element in dental crowns, partial denture frameworks, and bridges. Exposure to beryllium has caused “Chronic Beryllium Disease” (CBD) which is a lung disease that is serious and can be fatal. OSHA has required specific PPE (personal protection equipment) for those workers in dental labs or in an environment where there may be long-term exposure to beryllium.
- Bloodborne pathogens and other infectious diseases: Dental offices see patients that potentially have known or unknown diseases. The process of dentistry exposes workers to bloodborne pathogens and other possible disease states that are infectious. There are a variety of government departments that have established strict guidelines for protecting workers and patients from potential transmission in the dental environment. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) has publications and training that include but are not limited to: “Guidelines for Infection Control in Dental Healthcare Settings, Healthcare-Associated Infections (HAI), Recommended Infection-Control Practices for Dentistry, Model Plans and Programs for the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens and Hazard Communications Standards, Immunization of Healthcare Personnel: Recommendations for the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), Influenza Vaccination Information for Healthcare Workers.
- Mercury: Amalgam has been used in dentistry for fillings and cast restorations for around 150 years, however, amalgam contains mercury which is a dangerous substance. Dental workers risk exposure to the mercury contents of amalgam when removing or placing the tooth restoration. Once the process is complete, the potential risk of mercury exposure is reduced. OSHA has created documentation for Standards and Occupational Exposure Limits which includes data on mercury exposure. The American Dental Association Council on Scientific Affairs has additional information listed in Dental mercury hygiene recommendations. Due to mercury content, amalgam is required in most states to be disposed of by professional medical waste disposal companies such as Healthcare Waste Management under special disposal circumstances to avoid mercury and mercury vapor.
- Silica Dust: Dental workers that have been exposed to breathing crystalline silica can develop Silicosis. This is an incurable lung disease that has been linked to additional diseases such as lung cancer, kidney disease, and tuberculosis. OSHA has created informative documents: Silica, Crystalline.
- Waste Gases from Anesthesia: The most common anesthesia used in dentistry is nitrous oxide, although other gases may be used individually or in combination with nitrous oxide. When vapors leak into the surrounding areas, staff can be exposed to what is referred to as “waste anesthetic gases” causing illnesses. OSHA has created educational and training materials to address this topic that include: The Chemical Agents and Hospital Investigations: Health Hazards of the OTM (OSHA Technical Manual) and Nitrous Oxide in Workplace Atmospheres. Other organizations such as the DHHS (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) have additional documents that address the topic of waste gases from anesthesia.
Training Guidelines and Courses for Dental Workers
OSHA has established a variety of training courses and informational documents that outline the dangers that dental workers face and the actions that they need to take to protect themselves and the patients:
- Biological Agents
- Bloodborne Pathogens and Needlestick Prevention
- Computer Workstations
- Eye and Face Protection
- Hazard Communication
- Hazardous Drugs
- Latex Allergy
- Occupational Asthma
- Reproductive Hazards
- Respiratory Protection
- Waste Anesthetic Gases
- Workplace Violence
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