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Work-related Contact Dermatitis in Dentistry

Health and SafetyWork-related contact dermatitis is a common form of skin disease which can affect members of the dental team [1].  It is an inflammatory condition caused by exposure of the skin to outside agents and can result in irritation, redness, cracking and blistering [2].

The main causes of work-related contact dermatitis in the dental team are chemicals which may be present in both natural rubber latex and synthetic rubber (nitrile) gloves (see Latex Allergies), soaps and cleansers used for hand washing and ‘wet-work’ (e.g. having wet skin through frequent hand washing or surface cleaning).

Other allergenic or irritating chemicals found in the dental practice are those used for decontamination of instruments and the development of X-ray films. Less common skin problems, such as contact urticaria, may be due to occupational exposure to natural latex rubber proteins in sensitised individuals (see Latex Allergies).

Work-related dermatitis can be debilitating and, if confirmed by a GMP, is a RIDDOR-reportable work-related disease. The risks of work-related dermatitis can be reduced by putting in place suitable measures to reduce the skin’s exposure to allergenic or irritating materials.

Consider using alternative approaches such as automation (e.g. use a machine to decontaminate instruments) or introduce less hazardous products.

Provide suitable Personal Protective Equipment, bearing in mind that this in itself can be a risk factor for contact dermatitis.

Provide hand hygiene products (e.g. gentle soaps) that are both effective and minimise the risk of skin disease [3].

Train employees in use of equipment and gloves, correct hand cleaning and skin care measures (e.g. regular use of moisturisers) [3].

Provide good hand-drying facilities (e.g. good-quality, soft paper towels).

Provide emollients in suitable dispensers to prevent cross-contamination [3].

Consider using a system of skin-checking to ensure these preventative measures are working [2,4]. Seek advice from a GMP or local OHS if you suspect a member of your staff has developed contact dermatitis.


Sources of Information

  1. Work-related Contact Dermatitis in Dentistry (webpage). Health and Safety Executive (www.hse.gov.uk/skin/employ/highrisk/dental.htm)
  2. Skin care (downloadable posters). Health and Safety Executive (www.hse.gov.uk/skin/professional/posters.htm)
  3. Hand Hygiene (Chapter 1.2) and Personal Protective Equipment (Chapter 1.4). National Infection Prevention and Control Manual. Health Protection Scotland   (www.nipcm.hps.scot.nhs.uk)
  4. How do I prevent skin problems in my business? (webpage) Health and Safety Executive (www.hse.gov.uk/skin/employ/prevention.htm)