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Is noise-induced hearing loss a critical issue for Canadian dentists?

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I write having just participated in a meeting of the CDA Committee on Clinical & Scientific Affairs where one of the agenda items related to the occupational health and safety of dentists. Because of a letter addressed to the committee, the conversation turned to noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) among dentists. The committee members soon reached a consensus that they weren’t sure how big an issue this potential occupational hazard is for Canadian dentists today.

I did a quick Google search on the topic and I found some helpful background information on NIHL on the website of the US-based National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders. One fact that resonated with me was that NIHL can arise from sustained exposure to noise over 85 decibels (equivalent to the sound of heavy traffic), which can be exceeded by some equipment in dental offices.

A Medline search then led me to a recently published journal article titled Occupational safety threats among dental personnel and related risk factors, which concludes that NIHL is a potentially serious occupational health threat for dentists. The committee members also had access to an article titled Noise Induced Hearing Loss in Dental Offices, written by an audiologist, which highlights the risks and makes some recommendations for the prevention of NIHL.

What are your own experiences with and thoughts about occupational hearing loss among dentists? Have you, or any dental colleagues experienced hearing problems that seem to be worse than or different from other non-dental family members or friends? Do you and other dentists you know take any particular precautions to prevent NIHL? I would love to hear from you……

7 Comments

  1. Dr. Len Boksman November 30, 2013

    I am a 1972 graduate, being a left handed dentist. It is not a co-incidence that hearing in my right ear is perfectly normal, but I have extensive hearing loss on my left side.. I should have been advised of this potential. I would have worn ear protection on the side closer to the air turbine.

    Reply
  2. Cliff Leachman November 30, 2013

    Best reason to switch to electric hand pieces, never mind torque, control and precision.
    My compressor and vacuum are in a room outside of the office to further remove extraneous noise.
    I’m already deaf in one ear from recurrent infections as a child and have ZERO room for further
    hearing loss. This is something we all should be aware of, great job bringing this issue to the table.

    Reply
    1. Richard Anderson December 3, 2013

      Interesting topic! -An issue that is concerning to me. Having worked with wide ranging noise levels of handpieces, I can honestly say that better quality handpieces=happier patients and dentists. In general, lower levels of mechanical noise allows me to stay refreshed for longer in the day. Maybe this is my body’s way of telling me to avoid loud noises so that I can have healthy hearing even when I’m at the end of my career.

  3. Richard Price December 1, 2013

    Thank you for bringing this matter to the attention of Canadian dentists. There are plenty of other articles that support just what you bring to our attention:

    For example:
    Pandis, N., et al. (2007). “Occupational hazards in orthodontics: a review of risks and associated pathology.” Am J Orthod Dentofacial Orthop 132(3): 280-292.
    The purpose of this article was to review the occupational hazards related to the practice of orthodontics. A systematic approach was used to include all risks involved in an orthodontic practice. The classification of hazards was based on major sources of risks by system or tissue and by orthodontic office area (dental chair, laboratory, sterilization area, x-ray developing area). Potentially hazardous factors relate to the general practice setting; to specific materials and tools that expose the operator to vision and hearing risks; to chemical substances with known allergenic, toxic, or irritating actions; to increased microbial counts and silica particles of the aerosols produced during debonding; to ergonomic considerations that might have an impact on the provider’s muscoleskeletal system; and to psychological stress with proven undesirable sequelae. The identification and elimination of these risk factors should be incorporated into a standard practice management program as an integral part of orthodontic education. Professional organizations can also assist in informing practitioners of potential hazards and methods to deal with them.

    Remember that while the dentist may decide to take a cavalier attitude for their own safety, their staff (or their lawyers) may not be so kind.

    Reply
  4. Name December 2, 2013

    I most definitely have hearing loss. When I was examined by an audiologist in my forties I was told that hearing problems is a common complaint among dental practitioners.

    Reply
  5. Kevin Wardle December 3, 2013

    I have been diagnosed as having ‘profound’ hearing loss in my right ear. I have been practicing for 40 years and have noticed progressively greater hearing loss over the last 5 years to the point where I now must wear hearing aids to be able to hear most normal conversations.

    Reply
  6. S Fitzpatrick December 4, 2013

    Thank you for drawing attention to this topic. I have been practicing for 6 years and immediately had concerns about the noise levels in dental offices. I have had my hearing tested regularly for the past number of years and will continue to do so throughout my career!

    Reply

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