An article in Phys.org, published on August 25th, details how researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago found a simple and inexpensive way to completely suppress aerosolization of water droplets during dental procedures. The research was published in that week’s Physics of Fluids.
You can read the Phys.org article, “Polymers prevent potentially hazardous mist during dentist visit” at the link above. But here’s the short version.
Adding small amounts of approved food-grade polymers (the researchers used polyacrylic acid) to water used in dental settings resulted in zero aerosolization of water droplets. The researchers found that polyacrylic acid worked better than another commonly used polymer, xanthan gum.
According to the article, “Their results were surprising. Not only did a small admixture of polymers completely eliminate aerosolization, but it did so with ease, exhibiting fundamental polymer physics, such as coil-stretch transition, that served the intended purpose beautifully.
“They tested two FDA-approved polymers. Polyacrylic acid proved more effective than xanthan gum, because in addition to its high elongational viscosity (high elastic stresses in stretching), it revealed a relatively low shear viscosity, which makes pumping it easy.”
The study documented “the violent explosion of pockets of water supplied to teeth and gums that the dental tool aerosolizes. The spraying mist that accompanies a visit to the dentist is the result of water encountering rapid vibration of a tool or the centrifugal force of a drill, which bursts water into tiny droplets and propels these.”
The viscoelastic of food-grade polymers in water suppresses these droplets bursts for both the Cavitron scaler and the rotary drill. Essentially, the polymers stretch and elongate, preventing aerosolization and holding the tiny droplets within the mouth cavity.
Not Just Good News, But News You Can Use
Many dentists across the country are reporting that one or more of their team members have refused to return to the practice, citing concerns about potential COVID-19 infection. For dentists who are already limited in the number of patients they can have in the practice at one time, inadequate staffing levels are a direct hit in the pocketbook.
The process described above is a strong argument in favor of a safe return to the practice. You might consider waiting until the results have been replicated and verified; however, the striking thing about this study is that it was successful on the first trial.
The details about the amount of polyacrylic acid added to the water supply weren’t given in the Phys.org article, but are in the full Physics of Fluids study. Making those figures actionable in your practice may present some challenges.
However, as proof-of-concept goes, this is about as strong as it gets, and dentists should strongly consider implementing this safeguard.
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