A rare lung disease is killing dentists in Virginia, a new report finds. The disease in question, Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF), only affects about 200,000 people in the United States at a time, but a specialty clinic in Virginia has reported that a small group of patients over the past 15 years has given health officials a reason to worry about diagnosis rates: Nine of the patients—seven of whom have died—were dentists or dental workers.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), dentists made up a surprising 1 percent of IPF patients in the clinic. While that doesn’t seem like a lot on paper, it’s actually startlingly high considering it determines that dental workers are 23 times more likely to have IPF than the rest of the U.S. population. Knowing this, health officials are speculating that the dentist’s workplace may be contributing to their more frequent development of the disease.
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Sadly, the exact cause for the disease is still unclear. In the past, IPF has been linked to jobs that have frequent exposure to dust—wood or metal—however, this is the first time a connection to dental work has been determined.
Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis causes scarring of the lungs, making it hard for them to get oxygen to vital organs once compromised. Unfortunately, the disease cannot be cured and is often fatal. So, in order to protect yourself from the disease, the CDC is urging people who work in dental offices to take precautionary measures like wearing a respirator during certain procedures and always using protective gear when applicable at work. As the saying goes, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.