Safer visits to the dentist

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, dental practitioners around the world often faced some of the highest risk of accidental exposure to COVID-19 as they performed their work. To provide a safer environment in the dental clinic setting, researchers from NUS have invented a portable tent-like shield that prevents the spread of saliva and aerosols generated during dental procedures.

The shield, named the Dental Droplet and Aerosol Reducing Tent (Dental DART), forms a barrier around the patient’s head, protecting dentists, nurses and patients from direct and indirect exposure to infectious diseases, such as COVID-19, while limiting the spread of aerosols onto other objects and surfaces around the treatment room. 

“Dentistry is an essential service, and it has suffered tremendously since the beginning of this pandemic. Many dental service providers in Singapore have imposed a complete ban on aerosol-generating procedures during the COVID-19 outbreak. While imposing such extreme measure is understandable, it has also left thousands of people without proper treatment,” said Professor Mandeep Singh Duggal from NUS Dentistry, who co-invented the device.

The Dental DART is an adaptation of an earlier NUS innovation that protects healthcare workers when they perform procedures that generate droplets and aerosols, such as intubation and extubation.

“The Dental DART is a design evolution and has been prepared to protect dentists and their patients from potential infectious agents present in the aerosols that are generated during dental procedures,” said Professor Freddy Boey, NUS Deputy President (Innovation & Enterprise), who led the project.

Using the Dental DART

Adjustable to dental chairs of different sizes, the Dental DART is a clear tented shield that comes with three access ports for dentists and nurses to reach in and safely perform dental procedures.

It is attached to the vacuum pumps of dental chairs, allowing the safe removal of contaminated air from the tent and directing it to the scavenging system. That way, dentists and nurses, along with dental instruments, come into less contact with contaminated materials.

“It took us three months to come up with an ideal model. We had to design ‘universal hinges’ that allow for the device to suit all models of dental chairs, derive a proper design that allows foldability, as well as incorporate suitable positions for the access ports,” said Mr Sudarshan Anantharaman from the NUS Industry Liaison Office who co-invented this innovation.

The tent has been tested in a clinical setting by measuring the bacterial content on the surface of the dental chair light and on the face shield worn by the dentist. As scaling procedures are known to significantly increase air contamination, these tests were performed before and after scaling procedures.

The results showed no increase in the number of viable bacteria on these surfaces with the use of the Dental DART. Without the tent, the contamination increased by 14-fold.

It doesn’t just guard against COVID-19 but also reduces the risk of transmission of other infectious agents responsible for diseases such as pneumonitis, influenza, hepatitis and skin and eye infections.

“Our Dental DART can help provide a safer environment in the dental clinic setting and decrease the anxiety and psychological distresses imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic on all parties involved,” said Duggal.

The research team is now looking to collaborate with healthcare and industry partners to make this device available to dentists in Singapore and around the world.

Safer visits to the dentist
The Dental Droplet and Aerosol Reducing Tent (Dental DART) was developed by NUS researchers (from left) Professor Freddy Boey, Mr Sudarshan Anantharaman, Associate Professor Vinicius Rosa and their team // Credit: NUS

Adapted from NUS News.