Face Mask Performance: Are You Protected?

Published reports in the 1960s investigated reported increases in upper respiratory tract infections in dentists from airborne splashes, spatter, and aerosols generated during use of high-speed handpieces. Later studies also indicated a higher incidence of colds in dental hygienists who did not routinely wear masks during patient care. Despite demonstrations of occupational risk from airborne bioburden, many dentists, hygienists, and assistants did not routinely wear face masks during treatment procedures prior to 1980. As infection control awareness increased, prescribed protective measures began to address the heightened interest in respiratory protection for all dental professionals. Beginning with the initial 1978 American Dental Association (ADA) published document, every series of ADA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) infection control guidelines for dentistry has included recommendations for wearing face masks as a key component of personal protection against airborne pathogens.