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Why Dentists Are Susceptible to This Disease

May 23, 2018

By Dean George

It’s estimated that roughly 200,000 United States residents have idiopathic fibrosis at any given time. 

Less well known is why one small sample of dental professionals is 23 times more likely than the general population to contract the respiratory disease.

idiopathic fibrosis

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) became involved earlier this year after learning that seven of nine treated patients at a Virginia clinic who died of idiopathic fibrosis (IPF) over a 16-year period were in the dental profession.

IPF is a chronic lung disease that causes shortness of breath, a chronic cough, weight loss, joint and muscle plain and clubbed fingers or toes.  It causes scarring of the lungs and while the disease can be slowed, there is no cure.

Eventually the scarred lung tissue impedes breathing and prevents oxygen from getting to the heart and brain. Life expectancy after diagnosis is three to five years.

The CDC has not identified a specific cause, noting that no published data exists regarding dentists and IPF, but they did report that “dental personnel are exposed to infectious agents, chemicals, airborne particulates, ionizing radiation and other potentially hazardous materials.”

“Dentists and other dental personnel have unique exposures at work,” said Dr. Randall J. Nett, lead author of the study. “These exposures include bacteria, viruses, dusts, gases, radiation, and other respiratory hazards.”

Dr. Paul Casamassimo, chief policy officer of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry’s Pediatric Oral Health & Research Center, agrees.

“We do work with materials and with human bioproducts that are potentially damaging to our bodies if we inhale them,” he said, adding that the nine identified patients were all older, so they had been practicing dentistry at a time when safety standards were more lax.


Dental hygienists and dental technicians may also be at greater risk than other professions due to daily tasks like polishing dental appliances and preparing tooth impressions without proper protection and sufficient ventilation.

Today government guidelines help dental offices and their personnel stay better protected by wearing masks and taking other steps to avoid respiratory hazards.

Sources:  washingtonpost.com, cnn.com, newsweek.com
Photo sources: mycarpaltunnel.com, hygieneassociates.com


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