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Clean Air in Dental Offices

Dental practices are unique and in the time of COVID, which is a highly infectious disease they need to take greater safety precautions in protecting their patients. We’ve all seen how a dentist and his assistants working on a patient “gear” up with protective equipment. They know they could easily infect, or become infected when someone is undergoing dental work. If you’ve ever seen light shining behind the the tiny droplets you can see how much becomes airborne.

Typically, droplets are defined as large (>5 microns) aqueous bodies. By comparison to droplets, aerosolized particles are infinitesimal. Droplets being larger, will quickly fall in the surrounding area where they were created, but aerosols can hitch a ride on air currents and stay afloat for hours. This means aerosolized viruses are much more likely to more infectious and much more difficult to avoid.

Transmission of SARS-CoV-2

The CDC has been updating the knowledge for the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 which has shifted since the COVID was first identified here in the US. The transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is now categorized as inhalation of virus, deposition of virus on exposed mucous membranes, and touching mucous membranes which hands which have been contaminated with virus. This was not the case initially when COVID was introduced into our country, but like every new disease we are continually trying to learn about it to fight it and protect ourselves against it.

COVID Virus

One of the other things the public has learned in the last year is that transmission is less likely to be spread and contracted by surfaces. The latest evidence strongly suggests transmission from contaminated surfaces does not contribute substantially to new infections which means much more focus on prevention should be focused on airborne transmission.

Ventilation in Dental offices

Back to dental offices. Since new studies have shown that transmission events have involved the presence of an infectious person exhaling virus indoors for an extended time (as much as 2 hours) leading to virus concentrations in the air space sufficient to transmit infections. Even peopled passing through a space of someone who is infectious can become themselves infected, even after the person left.

With all this new science-driven data it should make dentist more concerned about the indoor ventilation they have in their office and patient rooms. A small indoor air purifier sitting in the lobby won’t really help much. I’ve seen this myself in my own dentist office. Simple “window dressing” apparently as anyone can see it’s 1. not moving much air. 2. in the lobby which doesn’t help someone in the rest of the space. 3. a stand-alone air purifier is low to the ground, not the ideal placement to capture aerosolized droplets. Of course, I wasn’t about to mention this to my dentist, especially before having a root canal.

Filters are an important part of any indoor air purification system

Certainly, if a dentist has an air purifier in every area including patient rooms it would be better than nothing. But an upper air UVGI (Ultraviolent Germicidal Irradiation) system which uses germicidal light (254-nm) is one of the best methods to ensure continuous clean air. Whether mounted on an upper wall or in the drop ceiling (ours is ceiling mounted) the location and UV light is an effective means for destroying microorganisms.

An effective upper room UVGI should have both filters (at minimum a MERV13) to capture the larger particulates before going being exposed to UV light. Filters has help keep the chamber clean which helps extend the life and efficacy of the system. Even though a dentist might believe they are protecting their patients and staff by installing a UV light in the HVAC system this is hardly going to protect anyone when aerosolized infectious disease are released into a room. Most of UV lamps are installed in the central HVAC system are designed for maintenance purposes, keeping the AC coils clean.

UV-C destroys microorganisms from replicating
and if used in the right area and product

Having a commercial grade UV based system in the right areas (preferably upper ceiling or wall) is one of the best ways a dentist can truly protect his office. UV light is very effective in destroying and inactivating viruses and bacteria as a means of reducing the transmission and spread of infectious diseases like COVID. This is why UV light has been used for over 50 + years in hospitals, clinics, laboratories, it works.