During a procedure, whether it is the doctor specifically or the technician assisting her, a dentist is doing more than just filling a cavity; she’s keeping her patient, her staff, and herself safe from toxic dust and fumes that could cause illness.
During any dental office procedure, there are numerous substances that are emitted into the air in the form of fumes and dust. Acrylates and methacrylates, in particular, can prove problematic. Roughly defined as the compound that results when water released after the root acid (acrylic or methacrylic acid) and alcohol mix, (meth)acrylates, also known as poly methyl methacrylate, or dental PMMA, have been synthetically reproduced to be used in paints, adhesives, printing inks, and other materials including dental bonding agents.
The Two Most Common Dental PMMAs & How They Occur
Two of the most common volatile (meth)acrylates found in dentistry are 2-hydroxyethyl methacrylate and methyl methacrylate. Exposure to dental PMMA can occur with a procedure as simple as filling a cavity.
After a dentist prepares the instruments needed and readies his patient, he will administer an anesthetic to reduce or eliminate pain. Subsequently, he will remove the damaged tooth portion before replacing the missing part with a composite or amalgam filling. It is during the drilling and filling stages that potential exposure is greatest.
The result? Dental PMMAs can trigger health complications when ingested, inhaled, or if contact is made with eyes or skin. Short-term exposures can produce ear, nose, and throat, and skin irritation. Long-term exposure can elicit skin rash. Furthermore, there are additional studies that support findings of resultant occupational asthma. In fact, Canada’s OSHA equivalent, CCOHS, went so far as to formally warn their nation’s workers of the risks involved with working with dental PMMAs – most significantly, developing asthma.
Despite international findings linking dental PMMAss to occupational asthma, OSHA presently has no standards protecting those who work in the dental industry.
Our U.S. dental community should be forewarned. Ill-effects from dental PMMAs are not just a North American problem; the World Health Organization (WHO) has acknowledged the issue and has recommended air impurity containment and ventilation as a means to control exposure.
The World Health Organization’s Perspective On Dental PMMAs
Containment consists in placing a physical barrier between the substance and people… Local exhaust ventilation is the removal of airborne contaminants close to their source of generation or release before they can spread and reach the worker’s breathing zone. For this, it is necessary to ensure that the airflow is sufficient and its direction appropriate.
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