Raise your hand if you don’t realize hearing loss can happen in dental offices because, well, we may just not know this! We all experience those annoying background noises hovering into our precious ears. We hear the cavitron and high-speed hygiene hand-pieces go off all day long. Hey Mr. DJ, that blaring music sounds pretty good. Dentists and patients raising their voices to hear each other through the masks. But wait a second? Does all this cause hearing loss?
Hearing loss is more common than people think. It can happen bilaterally or unilaterally, affect children and adults alike, varying degree of severity and a variety of reasons such as loud noise exposure. According to the WHO there are 1.5 billion people across the world with some form of hearing loss, and that is a lot of people. Some of you might be thinking, okay, but who has it? You don’t exactly see it. It’s an invisible disability. Some people with hearing loss may use oral speech primarily. Some may use sign language. Some may use both. Some wear hearing aids, cochlear implants or bone anchored hearing aids to name a few. Some may not wear anything at all. All of this depends solely on their choices.
Did you know dental professionals are at an increased risks for hearing loss? Most commonly due to noise exposure. According to the CDC, it hearing loss is the most common work-related disability in the United States. The exposure we’re used to is greater than 80 decibels. The dangerous level is anything higher than 90 decibels. A hairdryer will do that. According to OSHA, the maximum daily allowance at 90 decibels is 8 hrs. Loud noises can cause wear and tear to the hairs or nerve cells in your inner ear. When those are damaged, electrical signals can’t transmit efficiently and hearing loss becomes a problem. Fun fact? My hearing loss is greater than 95 decibel which is severe to profound. It means I can’t hear anything below 95 decibels without my hearing aids. A normal hearing is in the 20 decibels range where you can hear whispers and crickets chirping. You need to put me in front of a train (>100 decibel) for me to be able to hear it. But not literally.
While I was born this way, I’m a huge advocate for hearing loss inclusion as well as hearing loss protection. As dental professionals, we all care about oral health and what It does to our body. Hearing health is equally important. And I know firsthand what the experience in society is like. It’s not an easy place to be where you discover feelings of isolation and difficulty comprehending a conversation.
What can we do?
Tone down that background music. Minimize your personal time spent with your ear buds at home. Possibly switch to a different technology such as lasers over the high-speed handpieces where sound is softer. The masks are a tough one. They provide a high level of protection due to COVID-19 and keeps everyone safe. Although, certain masks such as an N95 can reduce the decibels of your voice by about 10 decibels. It’s like sitting in front of the classroom understanding the instructor speaking but it’s harder to hear as the instructor walks 10 feet away to the back of the classroom so the decibels are reduced. Most people respond better by visual cues. Clear masks or wearing a face shield can enhance the communication. Ear plugs are helpful. There are many varieties available on the market to better suit your needs from having custom ones done at your audiologist office to getting a chargeable kind online.
Most importantly, since we are at risk, no matter how small, but getting screened regularly at an audiologist or ear, nose and throat specialist can be essential to guide rehabilitation and having a connection with your loved ones. Protect your ears.