People working in the dental industry – and other health-related industries – are no strangers to personal protective equipment. But throughout the novel coronavirus pandemic, the public has become increasingly aware of the importance of personal protective equipment, or PPE.
As more people take an interest in proper PPE use, patients of dentists and professionals working in other dentistry-related fields likely will want more information on how practitioners are using PPE to keep safe everyone who enters their facilities. Some dental workers may themselves want more information on how they can help slow the spread of COVID-19 with the use of proper PPE.
Either way, this post will provide helpful information on masks that will provide safe levels of protection for everyone, how to handle used masks that are ready to be discarded and more.
PPE, short for personal protection equipment, is any equipment that a person wears to decrease the risk of being exposed to any sort of hazard that could cause an injury or illness in the workplace, according to OSHA.
Now, PPE has obviously been worn long before the coronavirus pandemic reached the United States earlier this year. They are used to protect workers who may be exposed to chemical, radiological, physical, electrical, mechanical or other hazards in their workplaces.
Common forms of PPE worn by employees who work in these potentially hazardous situations include gloves, safety glasses, face shields, reinforced shoes, ear plugs or muffs, hard hats, respirators, coveralls and much more.
For this post, though, we will focus on the types of facial protection that dentists may wear in their day-to-day operations.
Like other PPE, dentists wear masks to keep everyone who comes into contact with them – and themselves – safe. Masks are always worn, whether or not patients are showing symptoms of any sort. It’s standard practice, and required by the CDC and American Dental Association, for dentists to follow certain rules, such as wearing masks, to keep people safe.
One of the purposes of masks that’s of concern more now than ever is infection control. This is why there are rules pertaining to masks. Precautions regarding the control of infection spread require that any dental staff member who is involved with patient care wear a mask and other appropriate PPE. All dentists currently practicing are required to follow these precautions as set by the CDC.
Proper handwashing and regular use of alcohol-based handwashing, combined with wearing masks, can go a long way in preventing the spread of certain infectious diseases. Again, that is for the safety and well-being of both patients, dentists and the people they employ.
Now, not all masks will protect dental industry workers from all forms of infection. In fact, most masks do not give a dentist the level of protection they need to prevent them from becoming infected with certain airborne infections. This is because most masks can protect against fluids from entering their bodies, but some very small infectious particles that are airborne and not carried by fluids can still infect a person wearing a standard mask.
That’s why a dentist needs to wear a special type of mask to provide them with adequate protection. Masks do come in varieties, though, so it’s critical that dentists know what to look for when selecting the right types of masks.
Two of the most important characteristics of masks that dentists must pay attention to are bacterial filtration efficiency (BFE) and particulate filtration efficiency (PFE). The BFE is what measures how much bacteria a mask filters. The PFE measures much smaller materials that can be found in nonviable matter. Dental facilities must know whether the masks they have in the facility offer the right level of BFE and PFE filtration.
Another mask characteristic of concern to dentists is fluid resistance, which will determine how much fluid is able to pass through a given material. Dental professionals must also pay close attention to breathability, which is how difficult the mask is to breath through. Any practitioner who could experience breathing difficulty will want to avoid masks with low breathability measures.
Masks aren’t the best for all cases, though. In situations where a patient may transmit infectious disease through aerosol generating, dentists may need to wear respirators, which offer additional protection. These respirators need to be of N95 level or better.
An N95 respirator provides a higher level of protection against both airborne particles and liquid that could carry infectious material. For many procedures, these will be the preferred face covering for dentists.
N95 respirators are designed to provide a close fit for the wearer with excellent filtration qualities. The edges of these respirators should form a seal around the face.
Like surgical masks, N95s are tested for bacterial filtration efficiency, particulate filtration efficiency, fluid resistance, flammability and biocompatibility.
And also like surgical masks, N95 respirators are not supposed to be shared or reused.
Used or soiled surgical masks and respirators must be handled properly to protect against spread of disease. PPE waste has always been a concern, but it’s even more apparent now as more within the general public are wearing certain types of masks and gloves during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some PPE, like N95 respirators, can be properly disinfected according to CDC guidance. However, certain types of masks have to be disposed of correctly and could be considered medical or hazardous waste, depending on exposure to infectious disease-carrying matter.
Every dental facility needs a plan for how they will dispose of any materials, including PPE like surgical masks and respirators, that may have come into contact with contaminated or infectious material.
DRNA, a leading provider of dental amalgam recycling services, also provides medical waste and other hazardous waste disposal services. We offer a full range of services to keep your business in compliance with all local, state and federal regulations.
Contact us to learn more about what we offer to our partners.