Slower handpieces could help to lower COVID-19 spread

The careful operation of dental drills can help to lower the spread of aerosols in the practice setting, research suggestsThe careful operation of dental drills can help to lower the spread of aerosols in the practice setting, research suggests. 

Access to routine dental care has been limited since dental practices were given the go ahead back in June. Fallow periods and high levels of PPE have become essential in a bid to lower the risk of COVID-19 transmission during treatment.

But new research shows that slowing the speeds of dental drills can help to lower this risk.

A step forward

Carried out by Imperial and King’s College London, the team firstly analysed and measured aerosol generation during dental procedures.

They suggest that dental professionals could carefully select and control drill rotation speeds as a way of lowering transmission risk. Additionally, they recommend using instruments that only use water as a coolant.

They also found parameters that would allow staff to carry out certain treatments – but with 60 times less aerosol droplets in comparison to ordinary instrumentation.

Lead author Dr Antonis Sergis of Imperial’s Department of Mechanical Engineering said the research marks a step towards reduced risk.

‘Aerosols are a known transmission route for the virus behind COVID-19,’ he said.

‘With our colleagues at King’s, we have tested solutions that reduce the amount of aerosols produced in the first place. These could help reduce the risk of transmission during dental procedures.’

Lower risk, better safety

Professor Owen Addison of King’s College London Faculty of Dentistry is a co-author on the study.

‘This important work describes the basic mechanisms that lead to the features of dental aerosols that we currently consider to be high risk,’ he said.

‘This has enabled us to choose drill parameters to keep our patients and the dental team safe at this difficult time. We cannot provide every procedure, because slowing our drills is much less efficient.

‘But we now have the basis to do more than we have done in the last six months.’

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