Front Line Innovations – Aerosol Management Part 1

Research has shown COVID-19 is transmitted through aerosols. To combat this the CDC recommends aerosol management practices for dental offices. In the following three-part blog series Dr. McAllister Castelaz, the dental director at Horizon Health Services Ivor Dental Center shares how aerosol management is reshaping dental care.

Aerosol and aerosol management is top of mind as dentists reopen. While the terminology may make sense to health providers, aerosols can sound dangerous to our patients. In fact, many may only think of aerosols as part of a hairspray. It’s our job in the health care field to help assuage patient’s fears and help them feel comfortable going back to the dentist. In this blog and the following blogs on aerosols, I’ll share ways dental providers and members of the health care community can help address concerns around aerosols.

Let’s begin with an overview of what aerosols are and the role they play in dental care. I like to share the three points below with my patients.

Aerosols are created in more than one way

Aerosols are tiny particles that exist in the air, they are produced in several ways in a dental setting. For instance, when a dentist performs a filling they use a drill that sprays water to prepare the tooth. When the water meets the tooth some of it sprays back into the air, and with it comes any bacteria that might have been in the person’s mouth, these microscopic particles can become suspended in the air, i.e. aerosolized. Aerosols can also be produced when a hygienist performs a standard dental cleaning. During a cleaning, the hygienist uses an ultrasonic scaler that sprays water. This water removes plaque from the patient’s teeth which creates aerosols or splatter. These procedures are important to good oral health and aerosols are simply a necessary byproduct.

Aerosols are all around us

I try to emphasize to my patients that aerosols are nothing new; they exist in the air all the time no matter where you are. What is changing is how we understand the implications these aerosols have on the health and safety of our dental team and our patients, and dentists are taking steps to address them. The dental community is no stranger to bacteria and viruses and how they relate to our delivery of care. As part of a patient’s intake, we collect a complete medical history to understand other health factors that may influence the outcomes of a patient’s dental treatment. Aerosol management is just another way we seek to keep our patient’s healthy.

Dentists are working hard to keep patients and team members safe

The COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity for dentistry to re-examine other measures to keep their dental team safe and healthy and prevent transmission of disease from patient-to-patient. There are new recommendations on how to approach this, some a patient will be able to see in the office and other safety changes may not be noticeable for patients. In the next blog in our aerosol series, I’ll share some of these changes.

Additional resources