41. The Dentist's Drill

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41. The Dentist's Drill

If you're like us, a trip to the dental office to have a cavity filled is a frightening, anxiety-provoking experience. We would rather do just about anything else - weed the garden, count paper clips, mow the lawn - no matter how boring. Unfortunately for our health, we put off going to the dentist to have our cavities taken care of far longer than we should. When we finally get there and into that awful chair, we immediately request the largest possible dose of novocaine, gas, or any other pain reliever. But even that does not solve the problem. As we sit there with a drill in our mouth digging a hole in one or more teeth, we may not be able to feel the drill but we sure as anything hear it. That noise of the drill grinding away at our teeth is by far the worst part of the whole awful trip.

But what about the dentist? Is it possible that the noise created by the drilling process has an adverse effect on the dentist, as well as on the scared-to-death patient? A recent study has been conducted to deal with this question, and the results make it seem as if the answer is yes. Here is the complete text of the research summary, which was in a nationally distributed and widely read magazine:

Young people who become dentists to earn money and serve the public should consider another factor. Dentists work in an environment that can be detrimental to their health. A recent study of dental students at the University of Tennessee found they suffered a significant loss of hearing within three years of using high speed drills. These instruments reduce a patient's pain but gradually turn some dentists deaf or impair their hearing. The researchers in Tennessee recommend that dentists wear earmuffs or plugs on the job.*

It is interesting to us, and saddening, that the researchers' recommendation concerning earplugs or earmuffs took into consideration only the dentist. Don't they realize that the patient squirming in the chair not only hears the same noise but also interprets it as pain!

The results of this study indicate that the dental students experienced a significant hearing loss over a three-year span after beginning to use a dental drill. The research report, entitled "Dentists Beware," clearly implies that the hearing loss was caused by the noise created by the drill. The recommended solution (earplugs or earmuffs) again implies this cause-and-effect interpretation of the data. If all new dentists were to follow this recommendation and begin wearing earplugs or earmuffs, or if a noiseless drill were to be invented, could we indeed expect to find that dental students would no longer experience a hearing loss during the time they are attending dental school? In other words, is there a plausible rival hypothesis for the findings of this research investigation?

*Copyright 1977 by Parade Publications, Inc. Courtesy of Lloyd Shearer.

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