Dentistry, Aerosol and COVID-19

By Darrell Pruit, DDS

If my suspicion is correct – that aerosol driven from the mouths of patients by dentists’ high speed handpieces can carry the COVID-19 virus – we could be witnessing an alarming increase in dental office closures due to occupational illnesses in the weeks following Easter Sunday services, or even an official “all clear” signal much later.

In the best of possibilities, the virus is not going to immediately disappear. Out of the millions of dental patients who are already past due for cleanings and other dental services, many will still be shedding COVID-19 by the time they appear at dental offices. Dental handpieces are unique, under-appreciated vectors which, in my opinion, are capable of powering a secondary wave of infections for dentists, staff and their families, naturally followed by a third, larger wave. (We direly need a vaccine).

On the other hand, if my assumption is wrong, and a second wave of infections originating in dental offices fails to occur, that would suggest social distancing is meaningless because the virus is not hitching rides on tiny droplets of water when an infected person coughs or sneezes. I find that harder to believe than the risk posed to dentists and staff by dental handpieces.

NOTE: Darrell is a Ft. Worth dentist