Researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) have invented a portable tent-like shield to prevent the spread of saliva and aerosols generated during dental procedures.
The Dental Droplet and Aerosol Reducing Tent (Dental DART) can be placed around the patient’s head to serve as a barrier to protect dentists, nurses, and patients from direct and indirect exposure to infectious diseases such as COVID-19.
The Dental DART also limits the spread of aerosols onto environmental surfaces, decreasing pathogen availability and potential cross-contamination, the researchers said.
The device is an adaptation of DART, an earlier NUS innovation that protects healthcare workers when they perform procedures that generate droplets and aerosols, such as intubation and extubation.
“The Dental DART is a design evolution and has been prepared to protect dentists and their patients from potential infectious agents present in the aerosols that are generated during dental procedures,” said professor Freddy Boey, NUS deputy president (innovation and enterprise), and lead researcher.
The Dental DART is a clear tented shield that’s 54 cm at its base and 64 cm high. Its width is adjustable to between 60 and 70 cm to suit dental chairs of different sizes. It comes with three access ports for dentists and nurses to reach in and safely perform dental procedures.
The tent is attached to vacuum pumps that are available on dental chairs. The system safely removes the contaminated air from the tent, directing it to the scavenging system, the researchers said, decreasing the amount of contaminated materials in contact with the clinician’s hands, arms, and instruments.
“It took us three months to come up with an ideal model,” said co-inventor Sudarshan Anantharaman of the NUS Industry Liaison Office.
“We had to design universal hinges that allow for the device to suit all models of dental chairs, derive a proper design that allows foldability, as well as incorporate suitable positions for the access ports,” said Anantharaman.
The researchers tested the Dental DART in a clinical setting by measuring the bacterial content on the surface of the dental chair light and on the face shield worn by the dentist. The tests were conducted before and after scaling procedures, which significantly increase air contamination.
The results showed that there was no increase in the number of viable bacteria on these surfaces after the treatment with the use of the Dental DART. Without the use of the tent, contamination increased by a factor of 14.
“Personal protective equipment, or PPE, can be infected after being exposed to aerosols from dental procedures,” said associate professor and co-inventor Vinicius Rosa of the NUS Faculty of Dentistry.
“The use of the Dental DART can decrease the PPE exposure to aerosols and prevent further environmental contamination at the time the clinicians remove their arms, hands, and instruments from the tent,” Rosa said.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics has said that dentists are among the workers at the greatest risk of COVID-19 infection due to their high proximity to individuals and potential exposure to the disease. Other infectious agents responsible for pneumonitis, influenza, hepatitis, and skin and eye infections also may be transmitted during routine dental procedures.
“Dentistry is an essential service, and it has suffered tremendously since the beginning of this pandemic,” said co-inventor and professor Mandeep Singh Duggal of the NUS Faculty of Dentistry.
“Many dental service providers in Singapore have imposed a complete ban in aerosol-generating procedures during the COVID-19 outbreak. While imposing such an extreme measure is understandable, it has also left thousands of people without proper treatment,” Singh Duggal said.
“Our Dental DART can help provide a safer environment in the dental clinic setting and decrease the anxiety and psychosocial distresses imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic on all parties involved,” said Singh Duggal.
The four NUS researchers have filed a patient for the design of the Dental DART. They are looking to collaborate with healthcare and industry partners to make the device available to dentists in Singapore and around the world.