Study finds operator health risks with equine dental power tools

© Chelle 129 Science Update

Powered equine dentistry places operators at risk of inhaling unsafe levels of inorganic particulate matter, according to a recent study.

Motorised equipment is regularly used by equine veterinarians and dental technicians when carrying out routine equine dental procedures. Research suggests that particulate matter produced during the process poses possible health risks to the operators through the inhalation of aerosolised particles.

The study, conducted at Bristol University, investigated the dust particles produced during the motorised rasping of horses’ teeth. Sam Bescoby, in the Langford Vets Equine Department at the University, was lead author in the study, which used cadaver heads that were rasped under standardised conditions.

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

The authors found that both water-cooled and non-cooled motorised equipment produced particle levels (4.48mg/m3and 7.94 mg/m3 respectively) that were higher than the workplace exposure limit (WEL). (The time-weighted average (TWA) limit set by the Health and Safety Executive in the UK is 4mg/m3)

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

Lead author Sam Bescoby.
Lead author Sam Bescoby. © Bescoby Equine Vets

An 8-stage Marple Personal Cascade Impactor modelled the position of the particulates in relation to the human respiratory tree. Qualitative analysis of these particulates was performed using scanning electron microscopy and energy-dispersive x-ray spectroscopy.

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

They advise that a suitable face mask should be worn to reduce exposure to dust particles to within acceptable limits.

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

S.R Bescoby, SA Davis, M Sherriff, AJ Ireland. Quantitative and qualitative analysis of operator inhaled aerosols during routine motorised equine dental treatment. Equine Vet J (2021) 53, 1036 – 1046

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