Safe vs. fashionable eyewear

July 1, 2005
While consulting and lecturing, I try to keep track of trends. One trend that is troubling to me is that many hygienists and other team members do not wear adequate eye protection.

While consulting and lecturing, I try to keep track of trends. One trend that is troubling to me is that many hygienists and other team members do not wear adequate eye protection. Do people not feel they are vulnerable to an eye injury, or does vanity win out over practicality? The possibility of a piece of calculus or a spatter of saliva or blood flying into an eye is relatively high. Those of you who wear face shields know how much debris is on the shield after a procedure.

If you’re still not convinced, you need to see the updated version of the classic video, “If Saliva Were Red.” It’s available from the Organization for Safety and Asepsis Procedures (OSAP) at or (800) 298-6727.

What I commonly see is that hygienists wear their prescription eyeglasses as OSHA mandated eye protection. Although I’m a huge fan of fashion, the current eyewear trend is small lenses. These fashionable lenses do not provide protection from flying debris or spatter, not only because they’re small, but they lack side protection. OSHA standards require that eyewear provide employees with protection from flying debris, chemicals, and other harmful substances.

Safety standards allow for detachable side shields that can be added to prescription eyewear, although I don’t usually recommend them. The add-on side shields don’t adapt well to the side of the face, and therefore don’t provide adequate protection. If you wear prescription glasses, there are many disposable and re-usable face shields that can be worn over your glasses that prevent any spatter or debris from getting into your eyes.

Many safety glasses also fit over prescription glasses. If that seems a little bulky, you can purchase special safety glass frames, which are sort of like sports goggles, into which your prescription lenses can be placed. These are available from most opticians and optical supply companies. Many of you have heard the personal protective equipment lecture at OSHA seminars. So why am I beating the proverbial dead horse? Because I hear from people every week who have suffered serious eye injuries at work, and, in the case of a blood or saliva spatter, contracted serious eye infections. In addition to infectious disease risks, you are vulnerable to injuries from chemicals, such as acid etch solution and X-ray chemicals.

A common injury in dental practices is the hygienist or assistant getting splashed with fixer or developer while replenishing the processing solutions. Eye wear is very important when performing this task because the fixer solution is acidic and can cause serious chemical burns to the eye.

Some dental professionals have lost the use of an eye due to workplace injuries. Why would you want to take that chance?

Now I’ll address the maintenance of protective eyewear. Because eyewear is contaminated by spatter and debris during patient treatment, it needs to be cleaned and disinfected after use if it’s not covered by a chin-length face shield. However, beware of using surface disinfectants on eyewear. Over time, the chemicals in most surface disinfectants will make the plastic lenses cloudy. Soap and water are adequate for cleaning, and an alcohol-based sanitizer designed specifically for use on eyewear is best as a disinfectant. If you wear loupes, surface disinfectants can be especially detrimental. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning and disinfection. Some hygienists like to wear a face shield over their loupes to protect from contamination. It’s a matter of preference.

I hope this motivates some of you to better protect your eyes at work. I can’t think of many other things that impact everything you do besides your eyes. Just ask someone who has lost their eyesight.

Mary Govoni, CDA, RDH, MBA, is the owner of Clinical Dynamics, a consulting company based in Michigan. She is a member of the Organization for Safety and Asepsis Procedures and is a featured speaker on the ADA Seminar Series. She also writes a column for Dental Equipment & Materials magazine. She can be contacted at [email protected].