During the 1960s and 1970s, asbestos was a widely used material in dentistry, especially in the production of dental prostheses. But in 1977, all forms of asbestos became classified as material agents with proven carcinogenic effects.
How are dental health workers exposed to asbestos? What is mesothelioma, and how is it related to asbestos exposure? How can the dental health industry prevent or minimize asbestos exposure to dentists?
This article explains how dentists can be exposed to asbestos, which is the leading cause of mesothelioma. The article also discusses how to prevent such exposure to help limit or prevent the disease from spreading.
Knowing how dentists become exposed to asbestos and how this material can lead to mesothelioma can help the dental industry develop preventive measures to minimize the incidents of asbestos exposure among dental health professionals.
The Mesothelioma Group site contains helpful information on the stages of mesothelioma and treatment options to help manage the symptoms of this disease.
How Are Dental Health Professionals Exposed to Asbestos?
Asbestos has been a health hazard since the 1960s and 1970s, causing a high incidence of lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma.
Asbestosis is a lung disease caused by inhaling asbestos fibers and characterized by shortness of breath and lung tissue scarring.
Chrysotile is one type of asbestos formerly used in manufacturing periodontal dressing powders (PDP) and casting ring liners (CRL) utilized in dentistry.
One study documented the sources and everyday use of asbestos in prosthetic materials for dentistry, including the coating of casting cylinders and dental dressings.
One report, in particular, mentioned four cases of exposure to asbestos due to this material being present in dentistry materials. Three subjects worked as dental laboratory technicians, and one assisted in manufacturing dental prostheses.
The report suggested that malignant mesothelioma may be associated with dental technician work.
Malignant mesothelioma is cancer in the tissue lining the chest wall, lung, and abdomen.
In another study, researchers mentioned that using PDPs and CRLs containing asbestos shouldn’t increase the risk of asbestos-related diseases among dental professionals.
Results showed that dentistry tasks using CRLs didn’t exceed asbestos regulatory standards of 0.1 fibers per cubic centimeter (f/cc) or greater. Additionally, all samples collected during PDP mixing resulted in non-measurable fiber concentrations.
These findings suggest a lack of increased risk for ARD for tasks involving CRLs and PDPs that contain asbestos.
What Is Asbestos and How Does It Cause Mesothelioma?
Asbestos isn’t only one material but a group of six naturally occurring minerals comprising heat-resistant fibers:
Before the public knew of asbestos dangers, manufacturers had used this material in thousands of consumer products in the United States.
Some of these products are part of dentistry equipment and materials.
The U.S. regulates but doesn’t ban asbestos use, although this material can cause mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other cancers.
During the removal of asbestos insulation or when miners dig for this material, asbestos can break up and produce dust. If you inhale or swallow this dust, the fibers can settle in your lungs or stomach.
The fibers in these organs can cause irritation that can develop into mesothelioma. Although this process isn’t entirely understood, mesothelioma usually takes 20 to 60 years to develop after asbestos exposure.
Factors related to asbestos exposure that can increase the risk of mesothelioma include:
Living with someone regularly exposed to asbestos: People working with asbestos can carry the fibers home on their clothing or skin. Frequent exposure to these stray fibers can place others at home at risk of mesothelioma.
Personal asbestos exposure history: You can be directly exposed to asbestos if you work in an industry that uses this material or if there are asbestos products in your home.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer considers asbestos in all its forms as carcinogenic to humans.
Preventive Measures Against Asbestos Exposure in Dentistry
A 2022 proposal from an expert panel recommended the following measures to help prevent occupational risk in dentistry due to asbestos exposure:
Contact the National Cancer Institute (NCI) at 1-800-422-6237 or visit Cancer.gov to learn about asbestos exposure and how workers can protect themselves.
Prevention of Occupational Hazards Due to Asbestos Exposure in Dentistry. A Proposal from a Panel of Experts
Asbestosis: Symptoms & Causes
Potential airborne asbestos exposures in dentistry: a comprehensive review and risk assessment
Pleural malignant mesothelioma in dental laboratory technicians: A case series
Malignant Mesothelioma—Patient Version
Mesothelioma: Symptoms & Causes