We’re not out of flu season quite yet. While it peaks between December and March, it can go as late as May, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many people get flu shots, and many do not. Some people know when they are sick, and some haven’t a clue (or couldn’t possibly, as the case may be).
As an oral health care provider who follows OSHA and OSAP guidelines, you are aware that besides the flu, you have an increased chance of exposure to tuberculosis, the common cold, SARS, whooping cough, Legionnaires’ disease, measles, and HIV/AIDs than the average Joe or Jane. You also probably know that 95% of airborne aerosols you are routinely exposed to are less than 5.0 µ, invisible, and can remain airborne for longer than one would think. Then there is the spatter—which you might touch and later inadvertently transfer to yourself when you scratch your nose or wipe your eye. Spatter can harbor staphylococci, pneumococci, tubercle bacilli, influenza viruses, hepatitis viruses, rhinoviruses, and herpes viruses. Ugh. We used to not know all this. Today, those are the reasons why you must wear a mask and protective eyewear when performing any type of dental or hygiene care on patients.
Dental masks have come a long way—and there is a lot of science behind them. They must meet industry standards and are put through rigorous testing. Masks are classified into three categories: low (level 1), moderate (level 2), and high barrier (level 3), based on their fluid resistance, efficiency in bacterial and particulate filtration, and breathing resistance (as it pertains to filtration).
To review, wearing Level 1 masks is ok during intraoral examinations, taking impressions, and orthodontic procedures. You should switch to a level 2 mask if you are doing restorative procedures, dental prophylaxis, or scaling and root planing. Level 3 masks should be worn during periodontal and surgical procedures, ultrasonic scaling, and longer procedures like crown preps.
As Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Compliance is crucial to keeping yourself well. If you are not wearing the right mask for the task, or you are not wearing it properly, or it doesn’t fit quite right, or you don’t change it every 20-60 minutes if it gets saturated with either moisture from your breath or fluid exposure, you are not helping yourself. Nor are you protecting your patients, coworkers, and family members.
For more information on mask safety and proper usage, visit Medicom or the CDC. Click here to download an OSHA fact sheet, and here to see some OSAP FAQs. On this subject, you really can't have too much information!