While discussing PPE for dental team members is common, it is less common to talk about the PPE we provide to patients. One great example is safety glasses. In one study on the use of protective eyewear for dental patients, 20% of dental professionals surveyed reported that they never require patients to wear protective glasses. Unsurprisingly, about 26% of those practitioners also reported they had a patient experience an eye injury during treatment. No patient should go in for dental treatment and go home with an eye injury! Here is what you need to know about keeping them safe with protective eyewear for dental patients.
Types of Protective Eyewear for Dental Patients
Two basic types of protective eyewear for dental patients shield them from three treatment hazards: debris, bloodborne pathogens, and harmful light.
- Safety glasses and goggles
Safety glasses block debris, while goggles create a tight seal that protects against splashing or vapor.
- Laser Safety Eyewear
Laser eyewear filters out harmful light for patients undergoing laser dentistry treatments.
How to choose the right safety glasses or goggles for your patients
The best guidance on protective eyewear for dental patients comes from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA). They set the standard for the type of glasses that dental offices should provide to their staff.
Their current standard is ANSI/ISEA Z87.62. This 2021 update focused on increasing protection against bloodborne pathogens by expanding glasses coverage. Before that was the 2020 standard ANSI/ISEA Z87.1, which set requirements for impact resistance, non-ionization radiation protection, and liquid splash protection.
Of course, you do not need to know all the ins and outs of these standards to meet them. They are on the frame. Specifically, the markings Z87.1 and Z87.62 will be stamped into the frame to show the glasses meet these standards.
The above requirements only apply to your dental team, but they also set a surprisingly good framework for patient protection. You should balance that with practicality and patient comfort. To do that, look for safety glasses with the following features:
- Wrap-around design: The wrap-around design closes off gaps in the side and under the eyes, providing maximum protection from debris and splashing.
- Comfortable and adjustable: Lightweight safety glasses should be used to keep patients comfortable during procedures. Adjustable nose pads and temples can make them more secure and easy to wear.
- Anti-fog coating: Some dental procedures generate moisture and heat, leading to lens fogging. Glasses treated with an anti-fog coating will keep patients' vision distortion free so they can see clearly.
- Impact resistance: Half the purpose of safety glasses is to limit the risk of debris hitting the eye. If debris causes the glasses to shatter instead, a minor problem becomes a thousand times worse. Safety glass must be made of an impact-resistant material that meets ANSI Z87.1 standards to ensure patient protection.
- Fit over-frame: Your patient's own glasses do not meet the standards set in ANSI Z87.1, so they cannot function as safety glasses during procedures. You will need equipment that can work with their prescription glasses comfortably. Glasses marked as "fit over-frame" are typically designed to fit over most standard prescription lenses.
As for when to use these safety glasses, the American Dental Association recommends their use any time a patient undergoes a procedure likely to result in splashing or the spattering of blood or other biological matter. The ADA also highly recommends following the "first on, last off" rule. That means the glasses are the first thing the patient puts on when they get into the chair and the last, they take off when they leave.
The above rules will cover your protective eyewear for dental patients for most procedures. However, as laser dental procedures become more popular, laser-safety eyewear is growing equally important.
When to Use Laser Safety Eyewear
Since they were rolled out in the 1990s, dental lasers have been adapted for use in various hard and soft tissue procedures. In fact, there are over 20 approved indications for lasers in dental treatment, and that number continues to grow.
Of course, with every advancement comes new risk. Lasers pose a particular threat to dental patients because there is no room for error. If a patient gets a small amount of debris in their eye, they will make a full recovery. If they get directly exposed to a laser for even a fraction of a second, they can suffer from a range of injuries, from temporary flash blindness to permanent eye damage. The immediate effects of the injury may not even be apparent, meaning the patient does not get treatment and could suffer permanent vision impairment.
For that reason, the patient should have protective eyewear when lasers are in use. The first on, last off rule should also apply to every person in the room, not just the patient. Even if the laser is not being used on them, they could get exposed to scattered laser light if it is nearby.
You should follow your laser manufacturer's instructions for safety equipment standards. That is because a minimum optical density is required to protect the patient's eyes based on the laser's strength. Specifically, the formula compares the maximum power density output to the maximum permissible exposure. That means your laser safety glasses needs will vary from laser to laser. If in doubt, consult your laser manufacturer for patient safety glasses recommendations.
Maintaining and Tracking Patient Safety Glasses
While safety glasses are necessary for patient health, they also present a new cross-contamination risk. To eliminate that, here are some tips for maintaining and tracking your patient safety glasses:
- Consider disposable glasses: Disposable protective eyewear cuts the risk of contamination in half as the eyewear is never shared. However, this is not typically sustainable, nor is it cost-effective.
- Establish a cleaning protocol: Reusable protective eyewear should be cleaned and disinfected after every patient, following the manufacturer's guidelines. Special attention should be paid to areas that come in direct contact with the patient's skin, like around the bridge of the nose and temples. Glasses should also be cleaned regularly when not in use to remove dust or debris. Maintain a log of their use and cleaning to keep everyone on track.
- Regularly inspect glasses: Even a single chip or scratch can eliminate the protective properties of laser safety eyewear. Meanwhile, loose screws or bent frames can make safety glasses uncomfortable. Inspect your protective eyewear regularly and repair or throw out any damaged equipment. Log your inspections so you can ensure they are done regularly.
- Store your glasses safely: Glasses should be kept in an enclosed container or storage case to protect them from moisture, debris, or damage. You can also store logs for their maintenance or cleaning for ease of use and inventory management.
Protective eyewear for dental patients is not something we talk a lot about. We tend to focus on the eyewear our team members wear, but less on patient eye safety. While it seems unlikely, eye injuries in dental practices can happen. You can cut down on those incidents when everyone wears the appropriate eye protection.