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31 May 2014 | eLABORATE

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Dental technicians and prosthetists exposed to dangerous noise levels

Occupational Health & Safety

Dental technicians, dental prosthetists and all other dental professionals are often exposed to hazardous noise levels and a leading Australian ear surgeon is urging them to wear hearing protection. Dr Phillip Chang's call comes on the eve of Hearing Awareness Week, August 24-30, 2014.


"Noise induced hearing loss - i.e. hearing decrease caused by loud sound - can occur in industries such as dentistry with ongoing exposure to loud, high speed handpieces and other instruments held at close proximity," Dr Chang said.

"Hearing is a major tool of their trade and without optimal hearing, dental professionals cannot hear their patients, staff or colleagues.

"Hearing Awareness Week is a reminder for all dental professionals to look after their hearing and get their hearing checked."

Those working in dentistry are regularly exposed to noise levels louder than 80 decibels (dB),1,2 where the maximum safe exposure without ear protection is eight hours. For example, the noise levels generated during cutting for laboratory machinery is 85 dB,3 an electromotor handpiece is 82 dB3 and using a contra-angle turbine for cutting is 79 dB.3 Sound and pressure was the stated cause for more than 96 per cent of Australian workers' compensation claims for hearing loss in 2001/2012.4

"Excessive noise impacts the tiny hair cells in the cochlea, set deep inside the ear, which are responsible for sensing sound and transporting signals to the brain. Once these hair cells are damaged, they can't send messages to our brain which means that we can't hear all of the sounds that are happening around us," Dr Chang said.

"Because hair cells cannot be repaired or replaced, hearing can be lost forever. Everyone needs to take responsibility for their hearing - from the employer to the worker."

Just as we are reminded to visit the dentist regularly, dental professionals should take their own advice for their hearing and have their hearing checked regularly.

Young dental professionals can be more vulnerable to permanent hearing loss, not only from exposure to noise but also because young people have been found to be complacent to hearing problems.

In the 2013 Cochlear Newspoll,5 the survey concluded that 67 per cent of young people with a hearing problem would rather turn up the TV than admit they have a hearing problem.

"Not being able to hear can lead people to withdraw from social situations and can have significant consequences at work. One in six Australians6 are hearing impaired, a figure expected to rise to one in four in 2050 due to an ageing population," Dr Chang said.

"Noise damage affects being able to hear high pitches, which is critical for clarity of speech. Dental professionals need to look after their hearing now.

"Healthy hearing starts with wearing ear protection when there is increased exposure to noise and seeing a professional for a hearing test. Once hearing is damaged, it will never return to exactly what it was."

Dr Chang urges all dental professionals to get a hearing test this Hearing Awareness Week in August.

"A hearing test is the best way to confirm hearing loss, which can occur progressively and insidiously. It is quick, pain-free and straightforward, so really there's no excuse for not having one," he said. "There is a constellation of technological options available, such as implantable hearing solutions, that allow all people to hear better, no matter what their age or the severity of their hearing loss."

For more information, see www.hearingawarenessweek.org.au

References

  1. Decibels (dB) are used to measure sound level. A small increase in decibels dramatically increases sound pressure. For example an 80 dB sound has ten times more sound pressure than a 70 dB sound and 100 times more pressure than a 60 dB sound.
  2. Deafness Forum of Australia.
  3. Hearing Damage and its Prevention in Dental Practice' P Roshan Kumar, Puneet Sharma, N Kalavathy, K R Kashinath.
  4. Work-related noise induced hearing loss in Australia. Australian Safety and Compensation Council. April 2006.
  5. The Cochlear Newspoll study was conducted by telephone in July 2013 among a representative sample of n=1200 adults aged 18+ nationally.
  6. Access Economics: Listen Hear! The economic impact and cost of hearing loss in Australia. Feb 2006.

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