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Risk of contracting COVID-19 from dental procedures is low: study

Photo: Geber86/iStockphoto

Columbus, OH — Are you still leery about visiting the dentist’s office during the COVID-19 pandemic? The results of a recent study conducted by researchers from Ohio State University suggest the risk of transmission during procedures is rather low.

Because the disease is spread primarily through respiratory droplets, and dental procedures traditionally produce various aerosols, the researchers analyzed data from 28 dental procedures involving high-speed drilling or ultrasonic scaling. Before each procedure, the researchers collected samples of patients’ saliva as well as the dental irrigant, or water-based solution used for cleaning the patients’ mouths. They also collected samples of aerosol remnants 30 minutes after the procedures concluded.

Findings show that microbes from irrigants made up roughly 78% of the organisms in aerosols, while saliva, if present, made up 0.1% to 1.2% of airborne microbes in the room.

In a press release, Purnima Kumar, lead study author and a professor of periodontology at OSU, noted that “getting your teeth cleaned does not increase your risk for COVID-19 infection any more than drinking a glass of water from the dentist’s office does.”


Although Kumar cautions that speaking, coughing or sneezing in the dentist’s office “can still carry a high risk of disease transmission,” she’s hopeful the study findings will help soothe uneasiness among her colleagues.

“Dental surgeons and hygienists are always at the forefront of the war against bacteria in the mouth,” Kumar said. “They of course did not feel safe because they are frontline workers surrounded by aerosol.

“Hopefully this will set their mind at rest, because when you do procedures, it is the water from the ultrasonic equipment that’s causing bacteria to be there. It’s not saliva. So, the risk of spreading infection is not high.”

The study was published online May 12 in the Journal of Dental Research.

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