Doctors know how important is to develop a cure for this disease, which has already killed multiple dental workers through the last years.
A hardly-studied lung disease called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is attacking different people across the United States every day. In a Virginia care center, doctors analyzed a group of Americans and realized that 9 of them were dental workers, mostly dentists. This is already a high number, as the CDC officials wrote Friday. However, what’s more mysterious is that 7 out of that 9-individual-cluster died, and that nobody found much about the cause that could lead them to their deaths.
According to the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the doctors studied 894 patients from September 1996 to June 2017. In this 21-year-period, 7 out of 9 dental workers died from IPF – although all the cluster was only treated since 2000. Among that total, they identified eight (0.9 percent) dentists, while the one last patient left (0.1 percent) was a dental technician.
Dr. Randall J. Nett, the paper’s lead author and medical officer with the US Public Health Service, considered that it was essential to explain what the team wanted to say with the word ”cluster.” As he wrote, they used this term to refer a series of cases “grouped in place and time that are suspected to be greater than the number expected.” Thus, they could find new individuals suffering from IPF at any moment.
This explanation is also important to understand how worrying was to identify a cluster of 9 people who were dental workers, although the total of individuals was almost a hundred times more. As Dr. Nett said, that 1 percent of patients at the Virginia hospital was about “23 times higher than expected.” Also, those eight dentists and one only dental technician were men, with an average age of 64.
The cause of death is still unknown
Although the CDC officials expressed they couldn’t identify the cause of death of the seven patients, they didn’t discard the most visible link between them: their jobs. It’s highly probable that they had been exposed to some gas or bacteria, which then inhaled.
As Dr. Nett said, dentists and other dental personnel have “unique exposures at work.” Among those exposures are “bacteria, viruses, dust, gases, radiation, and other respiratory hazards.”
The report reads that one of the patients – from the two who didn’t die – reported not using any protection, like masks, while polishing dental appliances and preparing impressions. This made the experts think that those patients who did die could have been exposed to silica, or other compounds that are dangerous to humans due to their potential respiratory toxicity.
“At this time, we do not know what caused this cluster of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis cases in dental personnel,” Dr Nett wrote. Then, he advised dental workers to “wear certified respiratory protection” if they find troubles when trying to ventilate themselves.
In the end, the expert said they still need more time and more research to identify the actual reason for which the almost-900-people got infected with IPF – leading then seven of them to die. He concluded saying that the “CDC will follow up on this newly recognized cluster.”
Dr. Nett also said that about 650,000 people are working in the dental industry across all the states.
In danger since several years
This research didn’t surprise some experts. Dr. Paul Casamassimo, for instance, was already informed about the number of toxic compounds that dental workers are commonly exposed to. This is something that has happened for several years, as the chief policy officer of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry’s Pediatric Oral Health & Research Center noted.
“We do work with materials and with human bioproducts that are potentially damaging to our bodies if we inhale them,” Casamassimo said.
However, thanks to the new tech advances nowadays, dentists and students can identify when and where they should use protection while breathing at work. As Dr. Nett said, they know when to delegate specific work or procedures to safer laboratories that contain easy-ventilation.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health also demands the dental personnel to use the due protection when working, as Dr. Casamassimo said.
Dr. Casamassimo also noted that his father, who was an “old-school” dentists, passed away when he was 79. He said that the man didn’t die due to IPF, but that he suffered from some respiratory problems.
“This probably has been more common than we have known in the past,” he said.