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Is There a Connection between Hearing loss and High-speed Dental Tools?

The OHSU Tinnitus Clinic and the School of Dentistry is delving into the subject of high-speed dental tools and their relationship with hearing loss//. Apparently the relationship has not been understood very clearly. Robert Folmer, Ph.D., one of the study leaders, said"Over the years, we have seen dentists in the OHSU Tinnitus Clinic who were convinced that long-term exposure to sound from high-speed hand pieces contributed to their high-frequency hearing loss and tinnitus.These anecdotes, in combination with the research being divided about high-speed hand pieces playing a role in hearing loss, prompted our study. We hope the study is a good first step toward scientific evidence behind the anecdotes we've been hearing." Fulmer is associate professor of otolaryngology/head and neck surgery, School of Medicine, and chief of clinical services at the OHSU Tinnitus Clinic, Oregon Hearing Research Center.

Tinnitus, or ringing of the ears, can be constant or intermittent and can include buzzing, hissing or sizzling sounds. Many people experience momentary tinnitus, a high-pitched tone that lasts up to 30 seconds. Acute tinnitus, however, can last days or weeks and is most commonly caused by exposure to loud noise such as music at a rock concert, power tools or gunfire. The subsequent ringing indicates damage to the tiny hair-like structures within the inner ear and if exposure to loud noise continues, permanent hearing loss is likely.

Most of the current high-speed hand pieces, such as high-speed drills and scalers used by dental professionals, are between 90 to 100 decibels, says Folmer. That's the equivalent of a gas lawnmower or other power tools, which are loud enough to cause hearing loss over time. And hand pieces have actually gotten "quieter" over the years with the advent of modern technologies. However, very few dental professionals or students interviewed for the study so far, wear earplugs to protect themselves from this noise.


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