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WESTMINSTER, Colo. & JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. USA: An audiology student who is investigating the effects of noise from dental drills on dentists has won a National Hearing Conservation Association 2011/2012 research award. In her study, Krisztina Busci Johnson from the East Tennessee State University in Johnson City seeks to determine whether rotating instruments used in dentistry take their toll on dentists' hearing function.
Johnson is not the first scientist to look into a possible connection between dental drills and hearing loss in dental professionals. Research on this topic dates back to the early 1980s, when a study published by the "American Journal of Public Health" found a cause and effect relationship between hearing loss and the use of the high-speed dental handpieces.
Results, however, remain inconclusive, as a recent study conducted by the Institute for Evaluation in Cologne in Germany found that noise from rotating instruments did not go beyond 85 to 90 decibels, the limit commonly associated with permanent inner hear damage. This level of noise is typically created by subway trains driving at high speeds or heavy traffic.
Being a dental assistant for eight years herself, Johnson intends to measure and compare data on the hearing threshold of dentists drilling without hearing protection over a period of a working day. She is currently seeking participants in the Johnston City area, who will also receive a free clinical hearing evaluation during the process. If successful, she hopes to be able to persuade dentists to use better hearing protection and to widen the study by including dental assistants or hygienists.
"Another possibility is that the data could persuade dental drill manufacturers to produce drills that are safer for the human ear," she said.
Manufacturers of modern dental drills usually do not recommend using ear protection during operations, saying that the technology has become quieter over the years and their running time has significantly decreased.
According to the NHCA, a second research award went to a University of Florida research assistant who is investigating hearing threshold changes induced by digital audio players.
The annual trophy comes with prize money of $5,000.