Dental clinics may be high-risk places for COVID-19 infection. During a dental operation or surgery, patients must remove their mask, and airborne particles and aerosols post a risk of contamination and infection. This article covers masks and air purifiers as possible means of reducing virus transmission for dentists and dental clinic workers.
The CDC released guidance for dental practices and settings recently. They recommending that dentists screen patient intensively and wear face masks, but what else can dental clinics do to protect their workers and their patients? Let’s break this down into 2 parts: masks and air purifiers.
Using Masks as Protection in Dental Clinics
The CDC recommends surgical masks or cloth face coverings be worn at all times by dental health-care personnel. With surgical masks being preferred.
Data shows that surgical masks and N95 masks can both filter out virus-sized particles. What’s more, DIY masks can too. Thus, ensuring that staff and visitors wear masks throughout the day is an effective way of reducing the chance of virus transmission.
Using Air Purifiers to Filter COVID-19 In Dental Rooms
But there’s a problem. Dental patients often have to remove their mask for a dental operation or surgery. In those cases, using an air purifier may be another way to help reduce the spread of any viruses.
One group of researchers from North Carolina studied the distance the influenza virus could spread in a hospital environment. They measured how far influenza virus particles could spread from 94 people in the emergency department and inpatient care unit of a hospital. This environment is fairly similar to a dental clinic, where the patient is lying down in a chair.
The scientists found lots of virus particles 1 foot and 3 feet away from the patient. But at a distance of 6ft (1.8m), there were a lot fewer virus particles in the air.
This data suggests (perhaps not surprisingly) that the area directly around the patient is the most likely to contain the virus. That means it is the most critical to capture and purify the air directly around the patient. Air purifiers that use HEPA filters are able to filter out viruses including the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Air Purifiers Suitable for use in Dental Clinics
The next step will be to modify the air purifier to suit the dental clinic situation. The good news is, dentists from across the world have been contacting Smart Air to tell us how they’ve been modifying their air purifiers to meet the needs of their dental practice. One dentist from the UK modified the Smart Air Blast Mini to attach a pipe to the inlet of the Blast Mini.
They modified the Blast Mini using a vacuum cleaner tube with a funnel on the end. This funnel can then be used to point directly at the patient.
This tube sucks away air from near the patient’s head and sends it through a HEPA filter to capture virus particles. This setup should be able to meaningfully reduce the amount of virus particles in the air.
Of course, the air directly around the patient is not the only concern. What’s more, dental operations with spraying and drilling might make particles travel farther, so we need studies on dentist offices in particular to be more certain. To deal with these situations, it is wise to purify and ventilate the air in the entire office.
Paddy is the CEO of Smart Air, running operations from Beijing. He has a Masters in aeronautical engineering from Bristol University, UK having specialised in aerodynamics. An advocate for open data, free information and transparent business, he spends his spare time promoting honest business and social enterprise.