The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that an observation of patients at the Virginia Care Center led to the discovery that dentists had a high occurrence of Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis.
The disease is often fatal: Of the nine cases, seven have died, the report said.
Health officials are trying to figure out why dentists are dying after discovering a unusual pattern in cases of a lung disease.
One of the surviving cluster patients reported polishing dental appliances and preparing impressions without using a mask or other protection, according to the report. Some of the chemicals used in these processes are potentially toxic to the respiratory system, the CDC reported.
In April, 2016, a Virginia dentist who had just been diagnosed with IPF and was undergoing treatment at a specialty clinic called the CDC with a warning: Several other dental professionals had sought treatment at the same facility.
While that does not sound like a lot, it represents 1 percent of the total IPF patients.
Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is part of the larger family of interstitial lung diseases. Furthermore, according to the CDC "although IPF has been associated with certain occupations, no published data exist regarding IPF in dentists".
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The investigation came after one dentist diagnosed with the lung disease alerted the CDC to the pattern at the care center.
Dentists experience inhalation exposures that can elevate their risk toward some respiratory diseases related to occupation.
It causes progressive and irreversible lung scarring for reasons that are still poorly understood.
Today, dental personnel also have required protections from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, he said. The word idiopathic refers to the fact that we do not know the causes of this disease. Many patients who have IPF die within three to five years of diagnosis.
IPF symptoms include difficulty breathing, dry cough, chronic cough, weight loss, fatigue, joint and muscle pain, fingers or toes, reported Newsweek.
Before, workers exposed to dust from wood and metal have been warned to take precautions to prevent IPF, but this is the first time the CDC has warned that dentists and the people who work in their offices are vulnerable.
"We do work with materials and with human bioproducts that are potentially damaging to our bodies if we inhale them", Paul Casamassimo, chief policy officer of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry's Pediatric Oral Health & Research Center, told CNN.