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Is It Loud in Here?

Are you aware of the risk of hearing loss among dental clinicians? Working in dentistry comes with its own set of challenges, and one often overlooked aspect is the potential impact on auditory health. Dental clinicians, exposed to a wide range of high-pitched tools and equipment daily, face an increased risk of hearing loss.

Read on to learn about the auditory risks dental clinicians face, what equipment causes it, and what can be done to protect against hearing loss.

A systematic review of hearing loss in dental professionals found that 82% of the included studies reported a positive association with hearing loss for dental professionals. It revealed dental clinicians are at a heightened risk of developing hearing issues due to the nature of their work environment. This prevalence underscores the urgent need for awareness and protective measures to preserve their auditory health throughout their dental careers.

The primary culprits contributing to hearing loss among dental clinicians are the high-speed handpieces, ultrasonic scalers, and other noisy dental equipment routinely used in patient care. Prolonged exposure to these sounds, often exceeding safe decibel levels, can result in irreversible damage to the auditory system. The impact is not only physical but can also lead to increased stress, fatigue, and a decline in overall job satisfaction.

According to the American Dental Association, dental clinicians are exposed to 60-99 dBA (decibels) for extended periods throughout each day. To put this into context, healthy levels are below 70 dBA. Music concerts or sporting events are about 100-100 dBA. Even loud music through headphones can be around 110 dBA!

The extent of damage to hearing caused by noise depends on:

  1. Decibel level: How loud the sound is.

  2. Distance: How close you are to the source of the sound.

  3. Time: The length of time you are exposed to the sound.

It has been shown that daily exposure to noise levels between 85-90 dBA is harmful and the damage accumulates over time (similar to exposure to radiation). In addition, even a brief exposure to a very high noise level (think a metal tray being dropped on the floor) can cause damage.

To address this issue, dental professionals must prioritize using hearing protection devices. From over-the-counter noise reduction tools, like the Earaser, to custom-fitted devices, any protection is better than no protection. I personally use the Earaser and have found it to be discreet and comfortable to wear while seeing patients. I can still hear and converse normally, but do not hear the high-pitched handpiece or ultrasonic device as much, and I have found my stress levels are lower at work since using this device. I also use these while attending sporting events, concerts, or any other activity where unsafe noise levels are present.

Dental clinicians are at increased risk of auditory damage due to various technologies and equipment in the office. It's imperative that dental clinicians use the same preventive mindset used in patient care for themselves when it comes to preserving their hearing. Once it's gone, it's gone but it is easily preventable with awareness and using noise reduction devices.


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