N20 risks to dentists

Nitrous oxide exposure risks in dental surgeries

Added: 5th February 2018

If you run a dental practice, then there is good reason for you to mimimise the exposure to nitrous oxide of any staff who administer gas and air.

This is because several medical studies have highlighted issues around fertility for staff working in environments where nitrous oxide (N2O) is administered as an analgesic.

For example, one study(1) found that female dental assistants that were exposed to unscavenged nitrous oxide for five or more hours per week had a significant risk of reduced fertility in comparison with assistants that had not been exposed.

In fact, the assistants that been exposed to N2O were found to be 59% less likely to conceive for any given menstrual cycle compared with the unexposed assistants.

Scavenging systems help to reduce risk

In the above study, those dental assistants who used scavenging systems during N2O administration, were found to have a similar probability of conception as the unexposed assistants.

However, there can be instances where dental surgeries do not use scavenger systems at all or where these systems become faulty without anyone realising.

In addition, the actual gas and air equipment can become faulty, leeching colourless and odourless nitrous oxide into the environment.

So what can be done by dental practices to ensure that their dentists and dental nurses are not put at risk in these instances?

Protecting staff through personal sampling

The best way to ensure that your staff are not exposed to hazardous levels of Nitrous Oxide is to carry out workplace exposure monitoring through personal sampling.

This will help you comply with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health regulations which require you to monitor and record staff exposure to Nitrous Oxide against Workplace Exposure Limits set out by the Health & Safety Commission.

With personal sampling, a small sorbent tube is attached to staff clothing near their breathing zone for the duration of a shift. This tube is then analysed and a report produced from the findings.

If hazardous levels of exposure are detected, you can then identify the cause and reduce exposure levels to permissible levels.

For information on Cairn Technology’s personal sampling service for Nitrous Oxide click here or just call 0845 226 0185 and ask for our workplace monitoring team or email them at info@cairntechnology.com

(1) Rowland AS, Baird DD, Weinberg CR, Shore DL, Shy CM, Wilcox AJ [1992]. Reduced fertility among women employed as dental assistants exposed to high levels of nitrous oxide. New Eng J Med 327(14):993B997.