Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Dr. Sam Shamardi
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Dr. Sam Shamardi discusses why dentists are prone to hearing loss and what they can do about it.

Q: How serious of an issue is hearing loss in the workforce?

A: Believe it or not, hearing loss is actually the most common work-related injury/illness!

Q: Then why haven’t we heard more about it (excuse the pun)? 

A: A few reasons: First, hearing loss is not considered a disability. If it was, it would rank as the highest ranked disability in the world, more than any musculoskeletal issue, cardiac issue, cancer, etc. So if tomorrow we would change its status to count as a disability, it would instantly grab the headlines!

Second, because it isn’t dramatic. Cancer, cardiac issues, diabetes, etc, are life and death and have multi-million dollar industries to themselves. Hearing, on the other hand, is something people associate with natural aging, which couldn’t be further from the truth. The ADA has actually provided literature from as early as the 1950s as to the risks and need for protection, but it simply isn’t as popular to talk about compared to biomaterials and high-tech products.

Q: So you mean hearing loss is not necessarily a result of aging?

A: No! Believe it or not, hearing loss is an absolutely preventable issue! It’s as simple as protecting yourself; prevention via protection can absolutely minimize risks and any assumed effects of “aging.” Imagine being able to prevent cancer by simply taking a preventive measure. Would you do it? Then why not prevent yourself from losing your sense of sound?

Q: As dental professionals, what are our risks?

A: We are at extreme risk! Our environment is saturated with noise-rich, damaging sounds well above the acceptable limits. Nearly all of our equipment is damaging, whether from a high frequency or high decibel level. We have to also take into account that even when we are not at work, we still continue to expose ourselves to loud noises during our off-hours!

Q: So even if we only drill/ultrasonic scale for short periods, we are still at risk?

A: Absolutely. The biggest issue is time; hearing loss is a cumulative issue over time. As dental professionals, we are exposed to damaging sounds at consistent intervals daily over the course of decades. Consider smoking: Even if you only smoke 1 to 2 cigarettes daily over the course of decades, that adds up and can do just as much damage as smoking several packs over a shorter period of time. Therefore, it’s not a question of if but rather when, and how badly, we will lose our hearing due to our careers.

Q: Does hearing loss have any other effects?

A: Unfortunately, noise-induced hearing loss has serious systemic health effects as well. There are direct links established in the medical literature between noise exposure and cardiac issues, endocrine issues, and other systemic effects. Thus, not only is it damaging our ears, but it is causing serious overall health effects as well!

Q: What can dental professionals do to protect themselves?

A: Prevention, prevention, prevention! Unfortunately, most of our equipment is damaging, but we can prevent the damage by protecting ourselves with the use of ear plugs. In the past, all we had was traditional foam, which muffles sounds and limits our ability to communicate with patients/staff and hear normally. However, thanks to advancements in technology, we now have EarAid (Forward Science) plugs. These “active hearing” protection plugs allow us to hear in 100% HD without compromising our communication, all while protecting us from damaging our ears.

Q: How does the technology work?

A: In short, there is an electronic circuit within the plug that acts like a “smart plug” to instantaneously isolate and compress (lower) the damaging sounds to safer levels while allowing safe sounds to pass through unaffected. The result is incredible; you can have the sound of a high-speed drill and suction without any of the high pitch and shrill, all while communicating clearly with patients and staff. You will question why you ever waited so long!

Q: Do you use these plugs yourself?

A: Absolutely! I have been wearing them every day for several years now at work. I can’t imagine not having them, and once you compare the difference, you will understand the abuse your ears take and understand why so many of our colleagues have hearing issues!

Q: If you already have some hearing loss, are they still worth using?

A: Of course! If our patients ask us if it’s worth investing in their mouths if they have issues, what would we advise them? Hearing is one of our 5 senses and cannot be recovered once it’s lost. Even if you have already lost 50% of your hearing, still having another 50% is better than having none and being forced to use hearing aids.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Sam Shamardi earned his DMD degree at Tufts University and his periodontal certificate at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a Diplomate of the American Board of Periodontology and Implant Surgery and practices full-time as well as teaches part-time at the Harvard Dental Division of Periodontics. He is also the founder of Dental Innovations LLC, a company aimed at providing novel solutions to unaddressed issues within dentistry. He can be reached at sshamardi@gmail.com.