OBJECTIVES: Dental instruments such as the right angle or straight handpiece, air turbine, and ultrasonic scaler have the ability to produce dental aerosols containing water, saliva, microorganisms, blood, tooth particles, lubricating oil, and restorative materials. The purpose of this study was to find out whether personal protective equipment (mask, glasses) was used by dental personnel, and to investigate possible work related disease in the dental profession. METHODS: Cross sectional data were collected with a self administered questionnaire sent to 69 randomly chosen general dental practices in the West Midlands Region. All members of the dental team completed questionnaires (dentists (n = 122); nurses (n = 115); hygienists (n = 86); and receptionists (n = 74) and answered questions on use of personal protective equipment and the prevalence of upper and lower respiratory tract, eye, and skin symptoms (reported and work related). Reception staff were included as a low exposure, control group. Also, a longitudinal study of dental hygienists was carried out on 31 people who had taken part in a similar study five years earlier. RESULTS: Use of a face mask and glasses differed between clinical groups with hygienists and nurses being the most and least prevalent users respectively. Although several reported symptoms were significantly more prevalent among clinical staff, only one work related symptom (skin rashes or itchy or dry skin) was reported by the clinical staff more than by the non-clinical receptionists. Among female clinical staff, age < 35 years and atopy were the factors that predisposed to work related symptoms. Also, reported symptoms were related to duration of use of instruments that generated aerosols. CONCLUSIONS: This study shows a low level of work related symptoms in dentistry, but highlights a group vulnerable to prolonged exposures to dental aerosols. It also supports the need for enforcement of the use of personal protective equipment among dental nurses.
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