Health authorities are trying to determine why dentists are dying, after discovering an unusual pattern in lung disease cases.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that they found a high rate of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) for dentists at a care center in Virginia. Of the 900 patients analyzed for around twenty years, the CDC found that eight dentists and one dental technician – all of whom were men – had IPF. Seven of the patients had died, Newsweek reports.
This figure represents 1% of the total IPF patients in the country, while only around 0.038% of people in the United States practice dentistry as a profession, the CDC reports.
A questionnaire was administered to one of the living patients, who reported polishing dental appliances and preparing amalgams and impressions without respiratory protection,
the CDC said. “Substances used during these tasks contained…known or potential respiratory toxicity. Although no clear etiologies for this cluster exist, occupational exposures possibly contributed.”
The agency investigated after one dentist with IVF called attention to the pattern of lung disease at the care center.
The CDC said, “Although IPF has been associated with certain occupations, no published data exist regarding IPF in dentists. Dental personnel are exposed to infectious agents, chemicals, airborne particulates, ionizing radiation and other potentially hazardous materials. Inhalational exposures experienced by dentists likely increase their risk for certain work-related respiratory diseases.”
Pulmonary fibrosis causes scarring of the lungs, the US National Institutes of Health says. This thicker lung tissue prevents oxygen from properly getting into the blood, meaning organs such as the brain and the heart don’t get a sufficient supply.
When there is no visible cause for this scarring, the condition is idiopathic. Doctors are still unsure of what causes the disease, which kills patients between three and five years after diagnosis.
There appears to be no recognizable cause for the cases with the dentists. “Although the etiology of IPF is unknown, exposures that have been suggested as contributing factors include viral infections, cigarette smoking and occupations where exposure to dust, wood dust and metal dust are common,” the CDC said.