Best Practices for Hand Hygiene and Face Mask Use

According to the World Health Organization, COVID-19 can spread person-to-person in close contact through small droplets people expel when they exhale or cough. The droplets can accumulate on surfaces, objects, and body parts, where other people can pick them up and transfer the virus into their own eyes, nose, or mouth.

Experts predicted the new virus would spread throughout most of the world, and we are seeing the global impact of infecting a significant portion of the global population. But the severity of the disease remains to be seen. We now know that the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions are most at risk for developing severe illnesses.

As we are watching the coronavirus play out, there’s a good chance COVID-19 will come to your community and possibly your dental practice. This is on top of the influenza virus that flares up seasonally this time of year.

Know How Masks Are Classified and Rated

The highest rated masks generally recommended for use in dental settings are N95 respirators, which are evaluated, tested, and approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a part of the CDC. N95 respirators filter at least 95% of airborne particles and are proscribed for use when treating patients with or suspected of having respiratory illnesses. However, most dental practices should not need N95 respirators except perhaps for emergency treatments – with proper triaging, the treatment of patients presenting with symptoms of respiratory illnesses should be postponed until a later time when they have fully recovered.

The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) sets standards for the performance of and the materials used in face masks most commonly used in dental settings. The standards measure features such as fluid resistance, bacterial filtration efficiency, submicron particle filtration efficiency, differential pressure, and flame spread. Under the ASTM standards, each mask receives a rating according to its level of protection.

ASTM testing is voluntary, but the top dental mask manufacturers comply. ASTM F2100-11 standard requires a graphic display on the packaging stating the mask performance level.

Watch out for packaging that says something like “performs like a level 2.” This language may indicate the manufacturer has not actually tested their masks.

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