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Study reveals operator health risks with equine dental power tools

© Chelle 129 Dreamstime.com/Equine Science Update

Powered equine dentistry puts operators at risk of inhaling dangerous levels of inorganic particles, according to a recent study.

Powered equipment is regularly used by equine veterinarians and dental technicians when performing routine equine dental procedures. Research suggests that particulate matter produced during the process poses potential health risks to operators through inhalation of aerosolized particles.

The study, conducted at the University of Bristol, investigated the dust particles produced during the motorized grating of horses’ teeth. Sam Bescoby, from the University’s Langford Vets Equine Department, was lead author on the study, which used cadaver heads that were shredded under standardized conditions.

A full report on the work has been published in the Equine Veterinary Journal.

The authors found that both water-cooled and uncooled motorized equipment produced particulate levels (4.48 mg/m3and 7.94 mg/m3 respectively) that were above the Workplace Exposure Limit (WEL). (The time-weighted average (TWA) limit set by the Health and Safety Executive in the UK is 4 mg/m3)

The particles produced were of a range of sizes that could reach all levels of the human respiratory tract. Analysis of the dust revealed not only calcium and phosphorus from the teeth, but also tungsten, aluminum and iron.

Lead Writer Sam Bescoby.
Lead Writer Sam Bescoby. © Bescoby Equine Vets

An 8-stage personal Marple cascade impactor modeled the position of the particles relative to the human respiratory tree. Qualitative analysis of these particles was performed using scanning electron microscopy and energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy.

The researchers found that surgical masks reduced exposure levels to some extent. However, the FFP3 mask (N99/EN149/P3 equivalent) has been recommended as being more effective than the standard surgical face mask.

They advise wearing an appropriate face mask to reduce exposure to dust particles to acceptable limits.

This study focused only on inorganic particles. The authors suggest that further work on the biological component of particulate matter is needed.

SR Bescoby, SA Davis, M Sherriff, AJ Ireland. Quantitative and qualitative analysis of aerosols inhaled by the operator during routine motorized equine dental treatments. Equine Veterinarian J (2021) 53, 1036-1046

https://doi.org/10.1111/evj.13379

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