Exposure to the Dental Environment and Prevalence of Respiratory Illness in Dental Student Populations

Objective: To determine if the prevalence of respiratory disease among dental students and dental residents varies with their exposure to the clinical dental environment.Methods: A detailed questionnaire was administered to 817 students at 3 dental schools. The questionnaire sought information concerning demographic characteristics, school year, exposure to the dental environment and dental procedures, and history of respiratory disease. The data obtained were subjected to bivariate and multiple logistic regression analysis.Results: Respondents reported experiencing the following respiratory conditions during the previous year: asthma (26 cases), bronchitis (11 cases), chronic lung disease (6 cases), pneumonia (5 cases) and streptococcal pharyngitis (50 cases). Bivariate statistical analyses indicated no significant associations between the prevalence of any of the respiratory conditions and year in dental school, except for asthma, for which there was a significantly higher prevalence at 1 school compared to the other 2 schools. When all cases of respiratory disease were combined as a composite variable and subjected to multivariate logistic regression analysis controlling for age, sex, race, dental school, smoking history and alcohol consumption, no statistically significant association was observed between respiratory condition and year in dental school or exposure to the dental environment as a dental patient.Conclusion: No association was found between the prevalence of respiratory disease and a student's year in dental school or previous exposure to the dental environment as a patient. These results suggest that exposure to the dental environment does not increase the risk for respiratory infection in healthy dental health care workers.