The study conducted in Italy focuses on the cases of four dental laboratory technicians and one spouse of a technician who apparently developed pleural mesothelioma because of the asbestos used in the manufacturing of dental prostheses.
The cases are a reminder that dental technicians who develop unexplained symptoms consistent with malignant mesothelioma should let their doctor know about their work history.
Mesothelioma and the Dental Industry
Dental technician is not a job that is typically associated with asbestos exposure and mesothelioma.
During the height of its popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, asbestos was used in a wide range of building products. As a result, people in the asbestos industry, shipbuilders, or those who worked with asbestos-containing construction materials like insulation, shingles, cement, or floor and ceiling tiles have the highest rates of mesothelioma today.
But, in recent years, a number of unexpected industries, such as teaching and textile work, have emerged as also posing a potential mesothelioma risk. Dental technician is among them.
Asbestos was used as a binder in periodontal dressings and as a heat-resistant lining material for the casting rings used in making dental prostheses. Technicians who handled or otherwise worked with this material could inadvertently inhale microscopic asbestos fibers, triggering a chain of physiological responses that may result in a mesothelioma diagnosis decades later.
Quantifying the Risk for Dental Workers
In their new study, experts in occupational and community health, environmental science, dentistry, and preventive medicine studied the cases of 5,344 pleural mesothelioma patients between 2000 and 2014 in Lombardy, Italy.
They found four patients whose only documented exposure to asbestos was associated with work in the dental industry. Three were men who had worked as dental laboratory technicians and one was a woman who spent 30 years helping her husband manufacture dental prosthetics. The length of their asbestos exposure varied from just four years for one of the men to 34 years for another.
“We confirm the association of malignant mesothelioma with dental technician work,” writes author Carolina Mensi, BSc, PhD, with the Department of Preventive Medicine at Fondazione IRCCS Ca’ Granda-Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico. “Dental technicians suffering from mesothelioma should be questioned about past occupational asbestos exposure.” The report appears in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.
In the US, about 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed each year, although some suspect that the number may be higher because mesothelioma is so difficult to diagnose and many physicians have never seen a case before.
There is no screening tool for mesothelioma, but anyone who has worked in an industry that may have exposed them to asbestos should be aware of the early signs of the disease and should undergo regular physical exams.
Mensi, C, et al, “Pleural malignant mesothelioma in dental laboratory technicians: A case series”, April 13, 2017, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Epub ahead of print