Silicosis is a debilitating, sometimes fatal, yet preventable occupational lung disease caused by inhaling respirable crystalline silica dust. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, certain materials and processes used in dental laboratories place technicians at risk for silicosis. During 1994 to 2000, occupational disease surveillance programs in 5 states identified 9 confirmed cases of silicosis among persons who worked in dental laboratories; 4 persons resided in Michigan, 2 in New Jersey, and 1 each in Massachusetts, New York, and Ohio. Occupational diseases such as silicosis frequently are not recognized or reported by physicians. Healthcare providers and employers should be educated on the importance of screening and reporting silicosis to their state-based surveillance systems. Methods to control exposure to silica are well established. OSHA requires employers to identify occupational health hazards and control them by instituting engineering and work-practice controls, issuing personal protective equipment, and ensuring that such equipment is working and used properly. Dental technicians should be trained in the hazards of crystalline silica exposure and the methods to control exposure. CDC suggests that nonsilica-containing materials be substituted for silica-containing materials, eg, aluminum oxide as an abrasive blasting media instead of silica sand; isolate the source of silica exposure from the dental technician, eg, perform divestment of castings while materials are immersed in water; remove dust at its point of generation by using engineering controls; incorporate work and housekeeping practices that minimize the release of dust into the workroom air; use respiratory protection devices.
(Source: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Vol. 53, No. 9, 2004)