Statistics and history of hearing loss and tinnitus among those in the dental care industry
It has been reported that dentists suffer from hearing loss and tinnitus at double the rate of the overall population. The cause is due to noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) from the sounds of high-speed dental drills.
Since the 1960s, the high-speed dental drills have not decreased in noise intensity. During the 1970s, American and Canadian governments authorized legislation in workplace safety. This included laws that determined what the limits were for being exposed to noise. There were surveys given to occupations that were normally not associated with dangerous noise levels. This interest raised concerns for dental clinics and universities that had dental labs. The surveys showed a strong connection between the use of high speed dental drills, and increased risks of NIHL and tinnitus among those in the dental care profession.
Addressing NIHL in the dental care profession
Dentists, and dental hygienists, may wear protection for their hearing or reduce how often they use the high-speed dental drills. The easiest solution is to wear custom-made high-fidelity earplugs for musicians. They have a snug fit, are discrete, and will not disturb communication or interfere with the procedure.
The only other alternative for a high-speed dental drill is a dental laser. A dental laser will provide the same quality service, minus the excessive noise.
NIHL has been reported in many other professions from construction workers to those who work in the public transportation industries. Even though high-speed dental drills produce less noise than larger machines, there is still a risk of hearing loss. It’s similar to using a hairdryer. The noise is loud, but tolerable as long as it stays at a distance from your ears.
Enduring many years of practice around these loud tools can cause dental care professionals to become accustomed to the intense noises, just like any job that uses loud equipment. Long-term exposure to high-speed dental drills can cause permanent hearing loss.
Losing the ability to hear high-pitched frequencies
Higher-pitched frequencies are the first regions impacted by age and NIHL. Even mild hearing loss in this region that distinguishes speech sounds will affect communication, especially if there are distracting background noises. There isn’t much that can be done about age-related hearing loss, but it can be possible to reduce workplace NIHL by using hearing protection.
Noise levels in operating rooms and university labs
Although there have been many advances in dental tools, they remain just as loud as they were in the 1960s. The average high speed dental drill can reach sound levels between 70 to 105 dBA. Noise from the ultrasonic scalers can produce 80 to 92 dBA, and suction tools can produce 74-80 dBA. To put this in perspective being exposed to sounds that reach at least 85 dB can cause hearing loss.
It has been reported that 25 percent of dental students who are exposed to harmful sound levels while practicing in labs, have experienced an average of 15-minutes of a temporary threshold shift (TTS) after they practice using a high-speed dental drill. This is a temporary shift in the auditory threshold that can abruptly occur after being exposed to a high noise level. Many people’s hearing abilities are temporarily reduced as a result. If someone frequently experiences a TTS, it can cause permanent hearing loss.
Tinnitus and other comorbidities
Hearing loss can effect secondary neurological, physiological and psychological shifts. The most common symptoms are ringing or buzzing noises that are heard as a result of tinnitus. Although tinnitus is typically associated with NIHL, it’s not noticeable by 84 percent of people.
Tinnitus symptoms that are irritating tends to occur when three connected neural systems - the aural system, autonomic nervous system, and limbic system - react by misinterpreting the tinnitus as a threat. The limbic system creates negative emotions, or the fight-or-flight response, and the basic process of interpreting sound in the aural centers which affects the response. This causes a combination of stress-induced physiological and psychological shifts which include growth in producing stress hormones, higher blood pressure, and a lack of restfulness.
These symptoms can range from an annoying distraction, to being unable to tolerate the sounds. This can cause distress to an individual’s mental and physical well-being. In some instances, tinnitus sufferers have considered ending their own lives as a way to escape the sound. Dentists suffer from tinnitus at twice the rate of academic and laser dentists, medical doctors, and the population in general.
Hearing loss that goes untreated has been associated with depression, being hospitalized, socially isolated, decrease in motor coordination, and poor cognitive abilities. It has also been linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Neurons that aren’t being used by your auditory system, will then be used by your visual center. The auditory centers will move out to your frontal lobes, searching for neurons that can be used, which is what causes the decline.
If you are a dentist, dental hygienist, or dental student who is experiencing hearing loss due to noise exposure from high-speed dental drills, please contact us at Pure Sound Hearing Aids for a free hearing test and consultation.