While you might not associate the dental field with a risk for auditory injury, dental professionals are at an increased risk of obtaining irreversible sensorineural hearing loss. You may not experience the damaging effects of heavy construction equipment but the consistent use of dental instruments may cause damage over time.
Thankfully, this type of hearing loss may be prevented. Read on to learn more about sensorineural hearing loss, its symptoms and how to prevent it while practicing dentistry:
What Is Sensorineural Hearing Loss?
Before considering ways to prevent hearing loss, it’s helpful to understand what this type of hearing loss entails. Sensorineural hearing loss is responsible for 90% of all hearing loss in adults.
The most common causes of this hearing damage are exposure to loud noises, the natural aging process and genetic factors. While this type of hearing loss may not be reversible, it may be preventable.
The Process of Hearing Loss
Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when the structures of the auditory nerve of the inner ear are damaged. In actuality, it’s damage to the cochlea, which is covered in tiny hairs known as stereocilia, that results in hearing loss.
These tiny hairs work to convert the sound vibrations into neural signals, which are then carried by the auditory nerve into the brain.
Any sound louder than 85 decibels can negatively affect these hairs, leading to hearing loss. This hearing loss will usually go unnoticed until anywhere from 30% to 50% of these hairs are damaged. In some cases, dental professionals experience hearing damage long before it’s severe enough to be noticeable.
Symptoms of Sensorineural Hearing Loss
There are degrees of hearing loss, ranging from mild hearing loss of between 26 and 40 decibels to severe hearing loss, meaning more than 71 decibels. The following are some of the most common symptoms associated with sensorineural hearing loss and can occur in either one or both ears:
- Muffled voices or sounds.
- Balance problems and/or dizziness.
- Difficulty understanding speaking voices, especially those of children and females.
- Trouble hearing when there is background noise present.
- Difficulty understanding the words when spoken to, even if the voices can be heard.
- Ringing in the ears, also called tinnitus.
- Difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds.
How to Prevent Hearing Loss
Physical Ear Protection
One way to prevent hearing loss may be physical ear protection. Not only can physical protection help in terms of preventing potential hearing damage, it can help dental professionals to concentrate by reducing the noise associated with dental instruments.
There are two main options for ear protection widely used today:
- Ear Plugs: Ear plugs are often the preferred method for hearing protection thanks to their diminutive size. Ear plugs fit down inside the ear itself, blocking sound from moving into the ear canal. They can also be easily stored in the pockets of a jacket or scrubs or hung around the neck. Make sure that any ear plugs chosen fit properly as their effectiveness may depend on it.
- Noise Cancelling Headphones: Another option for hearing protection in a dental office are noise-canceling headphones. These fit over the ears and work by muffling or canceling out sounds. Proper fit may be paramount in ensuring these devices work as designed.
Choosing the Right Dental Equipment
Consider quiet alternatives to traditional tools. Typical instruments measure in at decibel levels of between 60 and 99. Dental professionals may be exposed to this level of noise for between 15 to 45 minutes, several times per day, several days a week.
While this range of decibels may not compare to factory noise or the sound of a chainsaw, over time, a similar type of damage may occur. In fact, exposure to sounds louder than 85 decibels can lead to eventual hearing loss. Consider the amount of noise an instrument makes before determining if it is the right choice for your office.
Baseline and regular hearing evaluations can help dental professionals to understand and monitor their hearing over time. Hearing loss typically isn’t something that happens instantly. Consequently, many people don’t even realize they have damaged hearing because the decline is so subtle.
Be aware of any hearing changes that might have occurred over time. It may be important to catch hearing loss as quickly as possible as early intervention may make a significant difference in how severe it becomes.
Protect Your Income with Disability Income Insurance
The dental profession can be both physically and mentally demanding while putting practitioners at a higher risk for injuries and / or illnesses such as hearing loss or carpal tunnel syndrome. Since injury or illness of any kind may have a significant impact on your ability to practice dentistry, disability income insurance may help to lessen the financial impact of that risk and provide some peace of mind.
Disability income insurance may help replace a portion of your current income if you are unable to work due to injury or illness. When you’ve worked hard to build your dental practice, income and assets, disability income insurance may help protect them in the face of life’s unpredictable uncertainties.
Learn more about protecting yourself by downloading our free Ebook guide to disability income insurance which includes information about individual policies, riders, how a premium is determined, and more.
Treloar & Heisel and Treloar & Heisel Property and Casualty are divisions of Treloar & Heisel, Inc.
Insurance products are offered through Treloar & Heisel, Inc.
This content is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as advice. Treloar & Heisel, Inc. and its divisions do not offer medical advice. Please consult a professional concerning this topic. This content was largely adapted from, Aimee Eyvazzadeh, What is Sensorineural Hearing Loss?, Healthline.
Hearing loss and other illnesses and injuries may not be covered by a disability insurance policy. Please consult the policy terms.