A group of hardworking engineers and other professionals from the University of Michigan have increased the knowledge base about how COVID-19 spreads through the air.
While their findings are based on transmission in the dental school setting – multiple stations separated by 5-foot high dividers – there’s likely to be some applicability to your practice’s physical layout. And as the old saying goes, “Knowledge is power.”
Aerosolized particles tend to linger in confined spaces, and far more were created during the simulated procedures (drilling on mannequins) than you might expect. Impact with any surface – such as teeth – tended to break larger droplets into smaller, aerosolized droplets that lingered around the mouth of the mannequin. In a real-world setting, this may expose the next patient to the virus.
External suction devices, in the context of the more open dental school environment, were of limited use in capturing aerosols around the mannequin’s mouth. Impacts with surfaces can alter the direction and speed of droplets, making capture more difficult.
In response, the clinic now allows longer waiting periods between patients in addition to sanitizing and disinfecting surfaces.
Solid Barriers May Exacerbate The Problem
In multiple-chair rooms, solid Plexiglass barriers between stations actually increased the amount of time the aerosolized particles lingered due to poor ventilation. Removing the barriers between some, but not all, stations increased airflow and led to an increased rate of clearance.
Depending on your treatment room’s layout, decreasing the number of patients in the room (which the dental school instituted) may allow for adequate ventilation without endangering patients or staff.
As noted, these findings may not apply closely if you have all private operatories. In any event, dentists should consider increasing the amount of time between patients and/or implementing more extensive external suction between appointments to capture more lingering aerosols within the room.
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