Infection prevention: Control aerosols when using an ultrasonic scaler or air polisher

Devices can help control aerosols during patient treatment

Dear Dianne,

I heard a talk about infection control recently, and the speaker described the need to control aerosols when using the power scaler and air polisher. He said the best way to accomplish that would be to have someone suction while I work. I do not have that luxury. Of course, I always use the saliva ejector to control pooling water, but I know it does little to control aerosols.

In a lecture you give, you talk about several different options for controlling airborne pathogens. Could you revisit that subject? What about my hair? Does a hairnet keep airborne pathogens out?


Hi Brittany,

We know that pathogens come from two sources: the patient and dental unit water lines. We also know that aerosols, or tiny microdroplets, are created when we use instruments such as power scalers and air polishers. Aerosols are measured in microns. One millimeter is equal to 1,000 microns. If an aerosolized particle is 0.5 microns, 2,000 particles could fill the space of one millimeter. Particles this small can pass through a standard face mask.

In a literature review conducted by Harrell, et al., which looked at blood in aerosols and splatter found that 100% of samples collected during ultrasonic scaling contained blood.1 According to Stephen K. Harrel, DDS, blood in aerosols and splatter “may represent a surrogate marker for pathogenic organisms and thus create an infection control risk.”1 Herpes simplex viruses, hepatitis viruses, and MRSA can be present in the mouth. It is logical that these organisms will be forced into aerosols resulting from the use of an ultrasonic scaler. This explains why aerosols should be controlled to the greatest extent possible.