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Press and media

Feasibility study to demonstrate effectiveness of mitigation measures in dental surgeries

Feasibility study of the detection of airborne particulates conducted by NPL demonstrates effectiveness of mitigation measures in dental surgeries

  • Aerosol in dental surgeries settled within 10 minutes on average and 20 minutes at most
  • Aerosols in clinical setting were not driven by Aerosol Generating Procedures
  • Mitigation methods currently in place are effective

London October 2020 – Scientists at National Physical Laboratory (NPL), have released the results of a promising feasibility study which demonstrates the effectiveness of mitigation methods used in dental practices during aerosol-generating procedures.  

This study presents promising conclusions that the aerosol mitigation methods used in this particular clinical environment are effective and that there is limited correlation between the aerosol peaks detected and the clinical treatments being conducted. The study identified several background aerosol peaks from other sources inside or outside of the dental surgery. All aerosol events were found to diminish to the background level within 10 minutes on average and 20 minutes at the upper time range regardless of their source.

As the National Metrology Institute for the UK, NPL’s measurement science expertise has been called upon by UK industry to independently assess the wide-ranging challenges that coronavirus (COVID-19) has presented.

From 8th June 2020, general dental practices and community dental services in England were permitted to resume face-to-face routine and urgent care for appropriate patient groups. This followed a period of pause (from 26 March) on routine treatments during the height of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

{my}dentist approached NPL scientists, with expertise in Air Quality measurements, to study Aerosol Generating Procedures (AGPs) and the associated monitoring and measurement (in real time) of aerosol particle concentration in a room (clinical space) during actual patient treatments.

Scientists at NPL conducted a preliminary investigation at a {my}dentist surgery using an Optical Particle Counter (OPC) to assess the airborne particle number concentrations present and how they are affected by different AGPs. Current Dental procedures and associated guidance is based on a number of assumptions linked to air quality in each clinical setting. One aim of this study was to gauge particle removal times in a real-world dental surgery seeing patients - highly relevant for informing ‘fallow’ times between AGPs.

Dentistry has been widely impacted by COVID-19 with many reports suggesting dental health may take years to recover to its pre-lockdown state. This initial feasibility study not only provides some insight for the dentistry industry, which employs more than 40,000 practitioners in the UK, but also to the general public who rely on this health service.

NPL are now looking to conduct further studies using a wider range of OPC instruments within multiple surgeries, the latter of which {my}dentist are kindly providing. This will further assess the impact of ventilation conditions, sampling position, mitigations and instrument types on aerosol generation, detection and behaviour. This study will be in a position to inform the suitable fallow period, PPE required and associated safe working practices across a variety of clinical environments.

Of the study, Jordan Tompkins, Higher Research Scientist at NPL’s Air Quality & Aerosol Metrology Group, stated: “This is a great first step to measure what is going on in real surgeries with real patients. I feel that NPL is well placed to bring a scientific rigor to these studies and to make sure that we have a solid base on which to build future policy.”

{my}dentist Group Clinical Director, Nyree Whitley, stated, “This study provides the most authoritative clinical evidence yet that the chain of safety measures across dental practices are highly effective and that aerosols settle within 10 minutes on average, and 20 minutes at most.”

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