Legionnaires’ disease in dental offices: Quantifying aerosol risks to dental workers and patients

  • Kerry Hamilton (Creator)
  • Aditya Kuppravalli (Creator)
  • Ashley Heida (Creator)
  • Sayalee Joshi (Creator)
  • C. N. Haas (Creator)
  • Marc Verhougstraete (Creator)
  • Daniel Gerrity (Creator)



<i>Legionella pneumophila</i> is an opportunistic bacterial respiratory pathogen that is one of the leading causes of drinking water outbreaks in the United States. Dental offices pose a potential risk for inhalation or aspiration of <i>L. pneumophila</i> due to the high surface area to volume ratio of dental unit water lines—a feature that is conducive to biofilm growth. This is coupled with the use of high-pressure water devices (e.g., ultrasonic scalers) that produce fine aerosols within the breathing zone. Prior research confirms that <i>L. pneumophila</i> occurs in dental unit water lines, but the associated human health risks have not been assessed. We aimed to: (1) synthesize the evidence for transmission and management of Legionnaires’ disease in dental offices; (2) create a quantitative modeling framework for predicting associated <i>L. pneumophila</i> infection risk; and (3) highlight influential parameters and research gaps requiring further study. We reviewed outbreaks, management guidance, and exposure studies and used these data to parameterize a quantitative microbial risk assessment (QMRA) model for <i>L. pneumophila</i> in dental applications. Probabilities of infection for dental hygienists and patients were assessed on a per-exposure and annual basis. We also assessed the impact of varying ventilation rates and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). Following an instrument purge (i.e., flush) and with a ventilation rate of 1.2 air changes per hour, the median per-exposure probability of infection for dental hygienists and patients exceeded a 1-in-10,000 infection risk benchmark. Per-exposure risks for workers during a purge and annual risks for workers wearing N95 masks did not exceed the benchmark. Increasing air change rates in the treatment room from 1.2 to 10 would achieve an ∼85% risk reduction, while utilization of N95 respirators would reduce risks by ∼95%. The concentration of <i>L. pneumophila</i> in dental unit water lines was a dominant parameter in the model and driver of risk. Future risk assessment efforts and refinement of microbiological control protocols would benefit from expanded occurrence datasets for <i>L. pneumophila</i> in dental applications.
Date made available2021
PublisherTaylor & Francis

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