The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that an observation of patients at the Virginia Care Center led to the discovery that dentists had a high occurrence of Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis.
They all had been diagnosed with what is described as a progressive illness affecting the lungs, but nobody knows what brings the disease on. One of the surviving patients told the CDC he worked as a dentist for 40 years and only wore a surgical mask during the last 20; he said he never wore a certified respirator.
In April, 2016, a Virginia dentist who had just been diagnosed with IPF and was undergoing treatment at a specialty clinic called the CDC with a warning: Several other dental professionals had sought treatment at the same facility.
One questionnaire given to a living IPF patient before he died revealed that he cleaned and polished dental equipment and prepared amalgams and impressions without respiratory protection, the CDC study reported.
About 85 percent of IPF patients also have a chronic, mainly dry cough that persists for more than eight weeks. "Substances used during these tasks contained...known or potential respiratory toxicity. Although no clear etiologies for this cluster exist, occupational exposures possibly contributed". Dental personnel are exposed to infectious agents, chemicals, airborne particulates, ionizing radiation and other potentially hazardous materials. "Inhalational exposures experienced by dentists likely increase their risk for certain work-related respiratory diseases".
Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is part of the larger family of interstitial lung diseases.
When doctors can not find a cause for the scarring condition, it is known as being idiopathic.
Seven of the patients studied had already died of the disease, which causes scarring in the lungs and prevents oxygen from getting into the heart and brain through the blood, Newsweek reported.
The median survival age of IPF after diagnosis is three to five years.
"Although the etiology of IPF is unknown, exposures that have been suggested as contributing factors include viral infections, cigarette smoking, and occupations where exposure to dust, wood dust, and metal dust are common", the CDC said.
The new report is not surprising according to Dr. Paul Casamassimo, who is the Chief Policy Officer for the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry's Pediatric Oral Health & Research Center.