Dentists are professionals who usually work in clinics or offices. Generally, it is quite uncommon to think that dental practitioners are subjected to high levels of noise. This is in contrast to construction workers or aviation crew. However, believe it or not, they have been a focus of audiological studies due to their exposure to noise produced by dental equipment. Dental handpieces and suction are some of the equipment which produce loud noise. Studies have shown that high-speed handpieces could produce sound pressure levels at 87.3 dBA to as loud as 102 dBA. Clearly, these levels are beyond the recommendation of the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA). OSHA allows 85 dBA to be the maximum sound pressure exposure for an eight-hour work day.
Some studies have also demonstrated that general dental practitioners experience increased hearing impairment risk compared to their general practitioner peers. Physicians were found to have better hearing thresholds than dentists. Moreover, dental students were also found to have auditory temporary threshold shift (i.e., temporary hearing loss) after using handpieces in dental laboratories.
While there is substantial research on hearing impairment in the dental industry, tinnitus is a problem that still needs to be explored. Some surveys done in South Africa and United Arab Emirates revealed that 31.85% and 37% of dentists, respectively, experienced tinnitus after working in the dental office.
Occupational Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is one of the most prevalent yet preventable occupational condition across numerous industries. It gradually develops and worsens upon continuous or intermittent noise exposure. On the other hand, acoustic trauma occurs suddenly due to a single exposure to a loud burst of sound.
Occupational NIHL has several characteristics. It is always sensorineural and typically affects both ears. Initially, it presents as a “notching” upon testing with an audiogram at high frequencies of 3,000, 4,000, or 6,000 Hz with recovery at 8,000 Hz.
During the first 10 to 15 years of exposure, hearing loss from continuous or intermittent exposure accelerates immediately. It then decelerates as the hearing threshold increases. Age-related hearing loss, on the other hand, accelerates over time.
Alarmingly, continuous noise exposure for the entire work day and over years is more destructive than interrupted noise exposure, as there is time for the ears to recover.
Hearing protective devices used in the real world have varying attenuation levels between individuals. However, noise reduction ratings (NRR) of hearing protection devices worn in the workplace are usually less than laboratory-derived ratings.
Tinnitus is an endogenous sensation in the ears which manifests as sound perceived in the absence of an external stimuli. More popularly, it is referred to as ringing in the ears. However, to some, it can be experienced as buzzing, whistling, roaring or humming, among others. It may either affect one or both ears and can occur continuously or intermittently. Also, it has varying intensities and can be severe and uncomfortable.
In general, tinnitus prevalence increases with age, highest in the elderly. With regards to gender, studies have shown that males had a higher prevalence compared to females.
There are many causes of tinnitus. Experts agree that it is a consequence of a lot of factors such as ear trauma, ototoxic drugs, vascular or metabolic problems, hearing impairment, tumor and Meniere’s disease.
In the workplace, tinnitus is mainly due to exposure to high levels of noise. Exposure to loud noise leads to injury in the cochlea, particularly outer hair cells. Sadly, this can lead to permanent damage.
Whatever the cause of tinnitus, it is largely disruptive to activities of daily living. Indeed, Big Ear’s owner and founder Glenn Hood can attest to this. Since 1987, he has been dealing with it and finding ways to prevent other people from having it. He turned this bothersome experience into a learning one as he dedicated himself to be a hearing conservation advocate.
Big Ear has developed a solution that will help prevent hearing impairment among dental practitioners: The One®. Originally, it was patented for musicians and band members but was found to be also applicable to the dental industry. It is a pair of dual-filtered earplugs that blocks loud sounds but still allows for situational awareness. The first outer filter acts as a screen. It is interchangeable to differently colored filters which correspond to varying levels of sound reduction. On the other hand, the second inner filter blocks off sound beyond 85 dBA, ensuring that harmful levels do not enter the ear canal.
The One® is custom-made and tailored to perfectly fit the user’s ears. It is simple and and does not need special care. In addition, it does not need batteries to be functional.
The One® Solution
In summary, dental practitioners are exposed to increased sound pressures in their working environment. Hence, just like any other worker, they should have the best hearing protection to prevent long-term hearing impairment.
At Big Ear, we only provide our customers with high quality custom earplugs which fit perfectly and are suited for various lifestyles. Try The One® and experience the difference.
Likewise, you can find out more about the buying cycle for hearing protection.
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Theodoroff, S.M., Folmer, R.L, (2015). Hearing loss associated with long-term exposure to high-speed dental handpieces. Gen Dent, 63(3), 71-76. PubMed PMID: 25945769
Messano, G. A., & Petti, S. (2012). General dental practitioners and hearing impairment. Journal of Dentistry, 40(10), 821–828. doi: 10.1016/j.jdent.2012.06.006
Mirza, R. D. O., Kirchner, D. B. M. D., Dobie, R. A., & Crawford, J. M. D. (2018). Occupational Noise-Induced Hearing Loss. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 60(9), e498–e501. doi: doi: 10.1097/JOM.0000000000001423
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Wu, B., Searchfield, G., Exeter, D., & Lee, A. (2015). Tinnitus prevalence in New Zealand. The New Zealand Medical Journal, 128(1423), 24–34.