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Myth busters for dental assistants: The reuse of masks due to shortage

March 17, 2020
Due to fear of the spreading coronavirus, many people are using face masks as "protection." This has led to a shortage for some dental team members. Now some are asking if they can reuse their masks. Here's what Tija Hunter has to say.

Find a link to the latest information from the NIOSH about face masks below.

Masks are in high demand due to coronavirus so dental professionals should be reusing their masks. Right? Wrong!

Due to panic and so much misinformation circulating about coronavirus, masks are in very high demand, and this has created a shortage of masks for health-care professionals. Many people are wearing masks to protect themselves against not just coronavirus, but also flu. Here is what the CDC states.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) generally suggests that only health-care workers who are in close contact with people with influenza wear masks. The CDC does not recommend that people in public areas wear masks to protect themselves from influenza.” Of course, that would carry over to coronavirus as well.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the CDC remain strong in their position that we should not ever reuse masks for any reason. I know that’s posing a problem right now because supplies are limited, but masks have not become extinct. One dental assistant posted on Facebook that her office manager checked with OSHA, and a representative for the organization told her that during this crisis it is OK to reuse masks! Well, if that is true, I’d love to know who she talked to. But I don’t believe what she posted. I think she was saying it because she didn’t want to spend too much time tracking down a mask.

While recently traveling through an airport I noticed several people sporting the latest in fashion masks, with the masks primarily being placed under their chins. (Insert eye roll here.) Not only does this not protect them, but when they remove their masks, they’re touching what they claim to be the infected part of the mask. Don’t wear a mask if you aren’t sick, which means you won’t take masks from health-care workers who need them the most and are required to wear them in their jobs.

Standing in the line of a women’s restroom at the same airport, I watched as women came out of the stalls, wet their hands, and barely attempted to wash them. Here is what the CDC says about hand washing.

“Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.”

The CDC also states, “A recent test concluded that a dose of 0.7 ml is the lowest dose sufficient to comfortably spread across all surfaces of most people’s hands.” For those who don’t know, that’s about the size of a Hershey’s Kiss chocolate.

As I was watching people, I noticed they didn’t stand at the sink very long, didn’t use enough soap if any at all, and didn’t completely dry their hands. They were basically going through the motions.

Hand washing is one of the most important things we can do to stop the spread of illness. If you touch a mask you’re wearing with your bare hands and are not washing, what are you really preventing?

I received a Facebook message from a person who knew a person who said that the masks coming out of China were being infected with coronavirus, so this person was advising that we not use them. (Insert another eye roll here.) Another friend told me that all bubble wrap comes from China and that people shouldn’t pop the bubble wrap because the air inside of the wrap is from China, so therefore tainted with the virus. It’s exhausting to listen to all of the craziness surrounding this.

Fear makes us afraid, makes us doubt the truth, and makes us paranoid. Stop already! This is serious, however, the good ol’ flu remains more powerful and affects more people than coronavirus has. Don’t let the hype to scare you. Keep calm and thoroughly wash your hands. It’s that simple.

Here is the latest statement from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) titled "Recommended Guidance for Extended Use and Limited Reuse of N95 Filtering Facepiece Respirators in Healthcare Settings."


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About the Author

Tija Hunter, CDA, EFDA

Tija Hunter, CDA, CDIA, CDIPC, CDSH, CDSO, EFDA, MADAA, is a member and former vice president of the American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA), where she holds the honor of Master. She is the director of the Dental Careers Institute, a dental assisting and dental continuing education program, and the author of seven continuing education study courses. She is an international speaker and a certified trainer in nitrous oxide in several states. She can be reached at [email protected].

Updated January 12, 2024