Airborne diseases in dentistry are unfortunately prevalent but preventable. Protecting yourself, your staff, and your patients from aerosols should be a priority in your practice. We are all up-in-arms about bloodborne pathogens and do everything in our power to prevent them, but we neglect airborne diseases. That needs to change! Michelle Strange joins me in this episode of Talking with the Toothcop to start the conversation.
Michelle has been in the dental industry since 2000, and a licensed hygienist since 2005. At one point, she was an OSHA Compliance Manager and Director of Clinical Education at O2 Nose Filters. She left private practice 5 years ago and is now an Educational Consultant for TePe Oral Hygiene Products. Michelle also co-hosts a podcast, “A Tale of Two Hygienists”.
Outline of This Episode
- [0:20] I introduce my guest, Michelle Strange.
- [3:05] Research on dental aerosols
- [4:05] The conversation about airborne diseases
- [6:40] Personal Protective Equipment
- [10:25] Protect your patients and staff
- [16:00] The psychology of bias
- [19:30] Transparent conversations with your patients
- [24:15] The dangers of chemical aerosols
- [27:55] How different personalities deal with change
- [32:35] Wrap your head around the why
The lowdown on airborne diseases
There are many safety protocols in place to prevent the transmission of bloodborne pathogens. A standard has been set that professionals must follow to protect themselves. But when it comes to airborne diseases, most providers aren’t even using the correct protective mask.
Chickenpox, Measles, Mumps, Tuberculosis, Herpes, and the common cold are all respiratory diseases transferred in aerosols.
Bloodborne diseases can only be transferred if you are cut, and you are exposed to contaminated blood. Airborne diseases can be spread if someone simply breathes or coughs! The dental industry doesn’t address this as well as they should—that needs to change.
The importance of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Because of the ease of transmission, it is imperative that you’re utilizing the proper PPE. Michelle has always had a proclivity for proper infection control. She made sure to use the Ultrasonic and air polishers for every single patient.
But when she was working as a hygienist, she was always sick with a sinus infection or bronchitis. It got so bad that her patients would comment it was odd when she wasn’t sick! Michelle is convinced it’s because she never knew the proper level of mask she should be wearing.
When you are working with high levels of aerosols, you need to be using a level three mask. Not only for your protection but your patients as well. Michelle and I cover the topic in detail—keep listening!
The Dunning–Kruger effect: overcome cognitive bias in dentistry
The Dunning-Kruger effect, simply paraphrased, implies that we as professionals believe we are more qualified than we actually are. Michelle contends that we need to consistently work to overcome our cognitive bias that we ‘know it all’. It’s important to remember that what you were taught in the ‘80s is going to be outdated.
Science is constantly evolving in the world of dentistry. We are constantly learning about new ways to treat and prevent disease. Keep an open mind and allow yourself to be challenged and always question the status quo. Your mindset must always come back to the proper protection of staff and patients.
Michelle and I believe there needs to be more transparent conversations with patients in the dental industry. It’s okay to admit that you’re not always the expert. Inform them that you’re staying on top of new research and new procedures and will always keep them in the loop on their treatment.
It’s not just biological—be aware of chemical aerosols as well
While airborne diseases are the aerosol that can be the most concerning, Michelle and I felt the need to caution you about chemical aerosols as well. When you’re working in the lab carving dentures or trimming models those particulates are quite fine.
So are you wearing the proper mask? Are you breathing in those particles? Do office staff enter the work areas without proper PPE? People aren’t just getting sick, they’re getting really sick. You need to cultivate an awareness of these concerns and educate your staff and patients.
Dentistry is the highest producer of aerosols, but dental masks are based on medical standards. Michelle and I discuss the need for dental standards as well as some other concerns that impact change in the dental office. Listen to the whole episode for more important information.