VOLUME 33, NUMBER 20 THURSDAY, March 7, 2002

send this article to a friend

No illness tied to dental aerosols

Contributing Editor

Ever since the dental community learned that water lines supplying their water-cooled drills harbor bacteria, the question of whether breathing in mists spun off by drills causes respiratory illness has been a subject of controversy.

A study by researchers from the UB School of Dental Medicine, presented today in San Diego at the International Association of Dental Research meeting, provides a preliminary answer: Probably not.

The potential health hazards of long-term exposure to "dental aerosols," as these mists of airborne water droplets are called, have been the subject of investigative television programs and articles in journals.

However, few attempts have been made to determine if there is a relationship between exposure to dental aerosols and actual illness among a cohort of dental workers. In an effort to identify such a relationship, UB dental researchers called on a ready study cohort—dental students—in three dental schools.

"Fourth-year students routinely spend up to 30 hours a week in clinics and first-year students spend none," said Frank A. Scannapieco, associate professor of oral biology and senior advisor on the study. "Clinic hours increase in linear fashion through the second and third year, so the hypothesis was that if dental aerosols were a risk, there would be an increase in respiratory illness among dental students by year as their clinic exposure increased."

Scannapieco and Maris Ditolla, a second-year UB dental student, administered a detailed questionnaire to 817 dental students and residents at UB, University of Southern California and Marquette University.

In addition to standard demographic information, participants provided a history of respiratory illness during the previous year.

"Given that students in the last year of school would have more exposure, we thought that if there was a relationship, it would show up as more illness in the fourth year," said Scannapieco. "We saw no difference between classes and prevalence of respiratory disease."

Alex Ho of the UB Department of Oral Biology, Casey Chen of the University of Southern California and Andrew Dentino of Marquette University also were involved in the study.

The research was funded by a U.S. Public Health Service grant.