Researchers analyzed patients at a specialty treatment center in Virginia and found a 23-fold higher rate of a serious lung condition in dentists than would normally be expected.
Between 2000 and 2015, eight dentists and one dental technician developed a lung condition called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, and seven of the patients died.
While no one knows what causes idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, the risk is higher in men, people over 50, smokers, people with gastroesophageal reflux disease (acid reflux), and those who have a genetic risk for the condition or who have had certain viral infections.
The cluster of cases was seen in patients being treated at a specialty clinic in Virginia, according to a report released this week by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The condition has been linked to job-related and environmental hazards, including some medications and inhaling dust from bacteria and animal proteins, wood, metals, and silica.
But there is no known link to dentists or other dental personnel. However, dentists and other dental workers can be exposed to particles and chemical compounds when performing various tasks such as drilling, polishing, and preparing filling amalgams.
The substances used during these tasks include silica, polyvinyl siloxane, and other compounds that could be toxic to the lungs, according to the report. While it still isn't clear if or how these might play a role, it is possible that the occupational exposures are a factor.