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Dental procedures are very low risk in the aerosol spread of COVID-19

Many common dental procedures have a very low risk of increasing the aerosol spread of COVID-19, suggests new research funded by NIHR and UKRI.

Aerosols can carry viruses, like coronavirus, which risks further infections if inhaled by healthcare staff or other patients. This research, part of the AERosolisation And Transmission Of SARS-CoV-2 in Healthcare Settings (AERATOR) study, measured the amount of aerosol produced from a wide range of dental procedures carried out on patients.

The study found the ultrasonic instrument, commonly used for dental scaling, produced much lower aerosol concentrations than the high-speed dental drill. However, currently the two instruments require the same precautions. Aerosol produced during the ultrasonic scaling procedure was consistent with the clean aerosol produced from the instrument itself and did not show additional aerosol is produced that could potentially spread COVID-19.

The potential risk of COVID-19 has required dental practices to take additional precautions for dental aerosol generating procedures to protect patients and staff. This has led to a dramatic reduction in dental services.

Tom Dudding, Restorative Dentistry Specialty Trainee in the Bristol Dental School at the University of Bristol and joint first author of the study, said: “Our study confirms much of the guidance around dental procedures deemed as low risk of spreading COVID-19 is correct, but suggests that the ultrasonic instrument could be seen as lower risk than it currently is.

“Our findings could allow the expansion of dental, hygiene and therapy work as it would reduce the need for additional precautions such as additional personal protective equipment (PPE) and fallow times when using this instrument.”

The AERATOR study is funded by the NIHR and UKRI COVID-19 rapid response call. The study also received urgent public health status, which enabled expedited research delivery support from the NIHR to support the research team to rapidly deliver the study.

The study from the University of Bristol, University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust (UHBW) and North Bristol NHS Trust (NBT) is the largest to date to specifically measure aerosol generation from dental instruments in real-patient clinical scenarios.

The study results have been published on the pre-print server medRxiv. The research has not yet been through peer-review or published in a scientific journal.