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The air we breathe can have a tremendous impact on our well-being and comfort. The use of various chemical compounds and the execution of dental work itself leads to daily exposure of toxic compounds which can, over time, lead to discomfort and serious health problems. Airborne microorganisms can also increase the risk of the transmission of infectious diseases.
The air in a dental surgery can function as a carrier of a variety of microbiological particles. The generation of these contaminants within a dental practice occurs mainly during dental procedures. The use of high-speed drills and ultrasonic scaling equipment generates fine aerosols, which consists of moisture droplets that contain blood, saliva and filling particles. These droplets are usually between 0.5 and 5 micro-meters in diameter, and are light enough to stay airborne for hours. Bacteria and viruses, which are contained in these micro-droplets, are easily inhaled and constitute a potential source of infection to the dentist, dental staff and patients.
Numerous studies show that dentists and their staff have higher than average levels of inorganic mercury (Hg) in their blood and urine. Since mercury is odorless and transforms from solid to gas at room temperature, the dangers of chronic exposure to mercury can easily remain undetected. Mercury vapor is not only released and potentially inhaled when dental amalgam is placed, but also when these fillings are removed. the dental practice itself can become a secondary source of mercury vapor exposure to dentists and staff. Over the years mercury may have gotten into floors, cracks of chairs or sinks and may now continuously release mercury vapor into the room.
Chemical disinfectants are being used in the dental practice to decontaminate hands, instruments and surfaces. The aim is to kill germs, viruses, and fungi spores. Disinfectants, which meet those requirements, often contain aldehydes (especially formaldehyde and glutaraldehyde) or phenol. Aldehydes are well known for the sensitizing potential and their inhalation toxicity. Exposure to aldehyde at low doses on a continuous basis may lead to chronic toxic effects, the symptoms of which are mostly non-specific (nausea, impairment of the memory, motivation, reactivity or dexterity). Even less toxic alcoholic compounds, such as ethanol, isopropanol, and n-propanol, can cause irritation of the respiratory tracts and the mucous membranes. An unpleasant disinfectant odor is often the only sign that unhealthy air pollutants are present.
The use of protective latex gloves can cause allergic reactions due to body contact or inhalation of latex allergens. These allergens attach themselves to the talcum powder particles of the glove and can thus become airborne.
For the development of x-ray films, several organic chemicals such as glutaraldehyde, are being used. These chemicals give off gases that can contribute to the contamination of the ambient air in dental environments.