14 Mar

Mystery Lung Disease Is 23 Times More Likely to Affect Dentists

The Centres for Disease Control have reported a surprisingly high proportion of people suffering from a rare lung disease are dentists or dental technicians. Over a 16 year reporting period, 9 out of 894 patients (roughly 1%) that were treated for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) were dentists or other dental technicians, which was 23 times higher than the expected figure, which has the potential to shed light on what causes the disease, which is a chronic lung disease with a very low survival rate.
Seven of the 9 dentists had already died prior to publication of the report.
This suggests that environmental factors could be responsible for a disease which currently very little is known about. As dentists are exposed to a variety of risk factors, including silica particles, plaster, dust, tooth and bodily particles from drilling, as well as viruses and bacteria from a number of patients.
The disease causes progressive scarring of lungs, similar to the damage to the lungs caused by smoking. The average age of the dentists affected was 64, which suggests they could have been practising dentistry without exercising the safety precautions that are expected of more modern dentists.
Whilst the news could be concerning to the millions of dentists working around the world, one comfort is that modern practices regarding dentist safety, including ventilation standards, masks, occupational safety and delegation to laboratories with stringent safety requirements means that the likelihood is this figure will go down over the next several decades. However, it is a reminder of the long-term hazards dentists undergo, and may perhaps shed light on a rare condition with unknown causes and a high risk of causing death.