Cluster of Lung Disease Cases Found Among Dentists

Nine dentists in Virginia developed a chronic, progressive lung disease of unknown cause between 2000 and 2015, and seven of them died, a new government study showed.

The cluster of cases is the first time that dentistry has been linked with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), CBS News reported.

The study, conducted by researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, identified 894 patients diagnosed with IPF at a medical center in Virginia. While the nine dentists accounted for just 1 percent of those patients, the number is significant when the number of dentists in the United States is taken into account, according to the researchers.

"A cluster is defined as an aggregation of cases grouped in place and time that are suspected to be greater than the number expected, even though the expected number might not be known," study author Dr. Randall Nett, a medical officer with the U.S. Public Health Service, told CBS News.

"The number of dentists treated for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis [IPF] at this Virginia tertiary care center was about 23 times higher than expected," he noted.

The cause of IPF is unknown, but work-related hazards may play a role, experts say. Previous studies have linked the disease to job-related exposure to dust, wood dust and metal dust. Other possible causes include tobacco smoke and viral infections, CBS News reported.

"Dentists and other dental personnel have unique exposures at work. These exposures include bacteria, viruses, dusts, gases, radiation and other respiratory hazards," Nett explained.

"At this time, we do not know what caused this cluster of IPF cases in dental personnel. However, it is possible exposures at work contributed to this cluster," he said.

MedicalNews
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