Occupational Hazards in Dentistry

Topics: Loss Control

Summary: Professionals in the dental industry face a variety of unique workplace hazards that can jeopardize their personal health and safety. Learn more about occupational hazards to dental staff, and the steps that can be taken to manage risk.

The CDC reports that cases of nonfatal occupational injury and illness with healthcare workers are among the highest of any industry sector. Dental staff members, in particular, are exposed continuously to unique occupational hazards that can put their personal health at risk.

An article from the Open Occupational Health and Safety Journal revealed that dentists, dental hygienists and dental assistants report more frequent and worse health problems than other high-risk medical professionals. Managing risk in dental offices is critical to protecting staff and keeping their health and safety top of mind. This means dental professionals should constantly stay updated on safe practices and newer strategies designed to minimize the hazards they face in their jobs.

Occupational Hazards Facing Dental Staff

Some of the most common dental professional hazards include:
  • Infectious diseases and bloodborne pathogens: Dentists are at high risk for injuries due to sharp instruments, needlesticks and saliva spatter that can expose them to a variety of viruses and bloodborne pathogens such as hepatitis and HIV and, more recently, COVID-19.
  • Stress and mental health issues: Studies indicate that dental professionals believe dentistry is more stressful than other professions. Situations such as anesthetization of patients, managing patients’ pain and their fear of procedures, and unanticipated emergencies can all lead to stress and burnout in dental staff.
  • Physical and ergonomic complications: Many dental professionals report experiencing pain in their backs, necks, shoulders and hands. In fact, chronic back pain is one of the most common occupational hazards in the dental industry. Dentists, hygienists and assistants often work in strained postures that can take a toll on the spine and limbs.
  • Exposure to radiation, mercury and anesthetic gases: Dental staff can be exposed to ionizing radiation from x-ray machines, which is a known cause of cancer. They are also exposed to non-ionizing radiation from the use of blue and ultra-violet light to cure various dental materials, which can damage the eyes. Dental professionals are also at risk for mercury and other chemical exposures, like nitrous oxide, which could cause serious health effects.
  • Allergic reactions and respiratory conditions: Many dental professionals experience allergic reactions like dermatitis on their hands, often from the prolonged wearing of latex gloves or dental polymer materials. Additionally, respiratory issues like occupational asthma can be common due to exposure to acrylate compounds, or acrylic dusts, during certain procedures.

Reducing Dental Professional Hazards

Many dental offices are also small businesses, and it’s critical to foster a safe work environment for employees to help reduce costly insurance claims. Creating a workplace safety program can positively impact the business’s bottom line while also keeping employees safe.

A workplace safety program for a dental office should start with identifying the specific risks employees face in their daily duties. While working with needles and chemicals is an obvious hazard, it’s also essential to consider the physical and mental risks at play. Additionally, think about common occupational hazards like slippery floors that could cause an employee to fall.

Once the risks are identified, create formal policies to address them and implement training procedures for all staff members. OSHA offers resources for dental care professionals to help recognize, control and prevent some of the common occupational hazards in dentistry.

Infection Control in Dentistry: Visiting the Dentist during the Coronavirus Crisis

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the United States in early 2020, dental offices put a halt to non-urgent visits and surgeries to comply with state shutdown orders. Because the coronavirus spreads through respiratory droplets, which includes saliva and mucus in the mouth and nose, the dental industry was particularly at risk for spreading the virus due to the nature of the procedures regularly performed.

To open safely, dental professionals needed to take extra precautions to ensure the safety of the staff and patients. These procedures include limiting the number of daily appointments and the number of patients allowed in the office at any given time, checking patient and staff temperatures regularly, and inquiring if both have any common coronavirus symptoms and or if they could have been exposed to someone with COVID-19. They should also follow CDC guidelines designed specifically for dental settings to help with infection prevention and control. These guidelines include:
  • Increased personal protective equipment for all dental professions in addition to the standard medical face mask and gloves, such as eye protection like goggles or face shields, a gown or other protective clothing
  • Require all patients to wear cloth face masks any time they are not receiving treatment or undergoing a procedure
  • Encourage social distancing by placing signage throughout the office to maintain six feet of space between patients and employees
  • Keep supplies and instruments sterilized and properly stored in between usage
  • Follow environmental cleaning and disinfection procedures in exam rooms consistently after every patient

Dental Offices are a Preferred Class for AmTrust

The healthcare industry, including dental offices, is one of the top classes AmTrust writes. From Workers’ Compensation coverage to loss control healthcare resources, we can help address the common risks dental professionals face.

AmTrust created a dedicated resource center to assist small businesses as the country reopens and a library of coronavirus resources to help our appointed agents and small business insured stay informed, safe and healthy. For more information on our small business insurance solutions, please contact us today.

This material is for informational purposes only and is not legal or business advice. Neither AmTrust Financial Services, Inc. nor any of its subsidiaries or affiliates represents or warrants that the information contained herein is appropriate or suitable for any specific business or legal purpose. Readers seeking resolution of specific questions should consult their business and/or legal advisors. Coverages may vary by location. Contact your local RSM for more information.

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