A cluster of patients treated for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) at a tertiary care center in Virginia during 2000 to 2015 were identified as dental personnel (8 dentists, 1 dental technician). Although no clear etiology exists, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) investigation into the cases notes that occupational exposures could have contributed. 

In 2016, a dentist who had been diagnosed with IPF alerted the CDC that there had been multiple IPF cases among dentists at the specialty clinic in Virginia. The number of dentists receiving IPF care at this one center was nearly 23-fold higher than the number of dentists in the U.S. (0.893% vs. 0.038%). The average age of the dentists at the time of consultation was 64 years. Among those who died, the average survival time was 3 years (range 1-7). 

The CDC investigators were able to administer a questionnaire to 1 of the living patients. He reported polishing dental appliances and preparing amalgams and impressions without respiratory protection. Some substances used while conducting these tasks contained silica, polyvinyl siloxane, alginate, and other compounds with known or potential respiratory toxicity. 

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Since no published data exists on a link between IPF and dental personnel, the CDC queried the National Occupational Respiratory Mortality System for 4 years (1999, 2003, 2004, and 2007) for “other interstitial pulmonary diseases with fibrosis” listed as the underlying or contributing cause of death. For those who worked in the ‘office of dentists’ the proportionate mortality ratio was 1.52 (95% CI = 1.05-2.11), and for dentists themselves it was 1.67 (95% CI – 1.01-2.61). “These findings suggest that a higher rate of IPF might occur among dental personnel than among the general population,” the authors write. 

The CDC concluded that further investigation into the risk of IPF among dental personnel is warranted. 

For more information visit CDC.gov.