Monthly Archives: December 2014

That Ringing You Hear May Not Be Jingle Bells

Did you know that noise is the leading cause of hearing loss?  Not illness or heredity or accidents. Noise!

I have an app on my cellphone called Noise Meter. Just out of curiosity, at the prompting of my sensitive ears, I’ll open it to check the noise level of airplane takeoff, a rock concert, or a high-explosive movie action scene. It’s amazing to watch the needle hover on the very edge of the gauge, sometimes going into the red danger zone.

hearing-loss.jpgEvery day, 30 million Americans are exposed to dangerous levels of noise. Often when I’m out running, I’ll pass someone who has music blaring from their earbuds so loudly that I can name that tune. I think to myself, that can’t be good for their ears! This realization prompted me to look back at my career and research the effects of noise associated with the dental profession.

I’ve worked in the dental industry over 30 years, 20+ of those years sitting chair side. My left ear was, quite naturally, right there next to the high-pitched noise of a handpiece or the constant sound of the suction. To this day, my left ear is sensitive and weaker than my right ear. Sometimes I close my eyes and can still hear the drill!

Have you ever been irritated by the frequency of ultrasonic cleaning tools or assisted on a long restorative procedure, with the handpiece whining in your ear? If so, you may want to consider wearing ear protection. It never occurred to me to protect my hearing back in the 70’s and 80’s.

How loud is too loud? Most people would not consider a dental office to be a place where noise is an issue, but the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) prescribes that any workers exposed to noise levels in excess of 85 decibels are at risk.

According to Oregon Health & Science University, an article published in Science Daily (2006) noted that most high-speed hand pieces, drills and ultrasonic scalers used by dental professionals released sound at 90 to 100 decibels, similar to a gas lawnmower or other power tools. Fast forward eight years — today’s hand pieces have gotten quieter with the advancement of technology. Now, many companies promote their hand piece and ultrasonic scalers as “quieter” with sound ranges averaging from 68 to 79 dBA, so being within safe limits. Although this decibel range falls below 85 decibels and is, therefore, not considered to be damaging, repeated use of an instrument emitting these decibel levels over time may cause hearing damage.

There is no Federal or state requirement for dental employers to provide protection; however, the American Dental Association (ADA) recommends the use of hearing protection when using dental equipment. It’s only a recommendation, not a requirement. Dental professionals need to be aware of the risk, take ownership and protect their ears.  Over time, hearing loss does occur.

One final note:  A 12-year study conducted by the neurology department at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine found that untreated hearing loss increased the risk for dementia.

With proper precautions, hearing loss can be minimized. Let’s enjoy the beautiful sounds of this holiday season and count our blessings.  Here’s to your health – your hearing health!

Sources:  NY Times Personal Health Blog

American-Speech-Language –Hearing Association