Due to shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), there is an alarming trend jeopardizing dental office safety where dentists and hygienists are re-using their masks.  Some are placing a “Level 1” mask over their N95 respirator and keeping the N95 on, patient after patient, only changing the level 1 mask on top.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put out a document outlining the protocols for “extended” use and “re-use” of masks.  As per the CDC:

“Extended use refers to the practice of wearing the same N95 respirator for repeated close contact encounters with several patients, without removing the respirator between patient encounters.  Extended use is well suited to situations wherein multiple patients are infected with the same respiratory pathogen and patients are placed together in dedicated waiting rooms…” So, this means the patients already have the pathogen and the healthcare worker is trying to protect themselves from getting it.

“Re-use refers to the practice of using the same N95 respirator for multiple encounters with patients but removing it after each encounter…. Transmission caused by touching a contaminated respirator has been identified as the primary hazard…” due to touching of the contaminated mask.

However, the CDC clearly states, within each of their protocols, that these masks are to be DISCARDED (thrown out) after use during aerosol-generating procedures.  And that’s all of dentistry.

So, I did an experiment where I took a piece of white paper, placed 2 different level 1 masks, and used a Sharpie to write on the masks.  When I lifted the masks, the sharpie marks were all over the white paper!  Contamination!  Using a level 1 mask over an N95 respirator does NOT prevent contamination.  One mask = one patient, then discard.  It’s as simple as that in dental office safety.

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