J Occup Environ Hyg. 2016 Oct 2;13(10):741-9. doi: 10.1080/15459624.2016.1177646.
Exposures to noise and resulting noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) are not well understood in the dental profession. Previous studies have focused primarily on practicing dental professionals, and have often evaluated hearing loss in the absence of adequate noise exposure assessment. This study was conducted to evaluate exposures among students and staff working in four clinics within a major U.S. university dental school, and to compare these exposures to those among dental professionals in a private general-practice clinic. We measured equivalent continuous average (LEQ) noise exposure levels at 3.75-min intervals across a variety of procedures in the evaluated clinics, and also had participants complete a brief survey with questions on their experience and perceptions of noise exposure. We collected 79 partial- or full-shift Time-Weighted Average (TWA) dosimetry measurements on 46 individuals. The mean 3.75-min interval LEQ level was 63.6 ± 13.3 dBA, while the highest 3.75-min interval LEQ was 103.5 dBA. Students from the dental school clinics had the highest variability in average exposure levels, while the pediatric clinic evaluated had the highest average and maximum exposures. Nearly 4% of standardized 8-hr TWA measurements exceeded the 85 dBA Recommended Exposure Limit established by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Concerns about the potential effects of dental noise on participants’ hearing were significantly correlated with metrics of TWA noise exposure, as well as variability of exposure (as assessed by the SD of the 3.75-min LEQ levels). Our results suggest that dental students and staff may have some risk of developing noise-induced hearing loss, particularly in pediatric clinical settings.