Dental News

That Noisy Handpiece Gets the Blame


Everyone knows that rock musicians and construction workers are susceptible to hearing loss, but dentists also can experience the same work-related problems.

Hearing loss occurs when the hair cells in the inner ear are damaged from loud and continuous sound – more than 90 decibels, according to a study in General Dentistry, AGD’s clinical journal.

Although most people experience hearing loss as a result of age, others experience a loss from working in a profession where loud noise is regularly produced over a period of time. Dentistry is one of those professions.

“Dentists are susceptible to hearing loss because of the dental handpiece,” says Dr. Jay Orlikoff matter-of-factly.

He says that studies show that dentists who are left-handed tend to have increased hearing loss in the left ear, and those who are right-handed have more hearing loss in the right ear.

To protect themselves from a serious loss of hearing, dentists are turning to ear-plugs which muffle the intensity and frequency of the noise. Another way dentists protect themselves is to maintain proper posture and maximize the distance between themselves and the patient.

But patients frequently have a different reaction to the handpiece, says Dr. Orlikoff. In fact, he says the sound of the drill may cause anxiety for some patients. “Most of that fear is more psychological than physical,” he notes.

He has some advice for his colleagues who want to put their patients at ease.

  • Explain the procedure to the patient.
  • Demonstrate the handpiece to the patient, including what it sounds like.
  • Consider providing an alternative therapy such as air abrasion.
  • Provide headphones for the patient.
  • Inform patients that they may want to bring their own ear-plugs with them and explain why they are important.

Edited by Chris Smith