Mask Details Guignon

July 27, 2010
RDH columnist Anne Guignon discusses how masks are not a one-size-fits-all protective device in the dental environment.

by Anne Nugent Guignon, RDH, MPH

At first glance, masks look pretty much the same. An uncomfortable mask or one that does not fit the face well is not only distracting, but does not provide proper protection. Masks must be worn properly to fit one’s facial geometry. The proof is how a mask feels on your face, eliminates fogging, and how the ear loops, ties, or elastic straps feel on your head.

Clinicians often complain that masks cause protective eyewear to fog up, particularly magnification loupes. There are now masks with special nose strips specifically designed to eliminate this fogging. In addition, a properly designed nose strip can contribute to the overall comfort of magnification loupes by absorbing and redistributing weight on the nose.

Head straps are an important part of comfort. Numerous designs are available and made from neoprene, cotton, and silky-feeling synthetics. You should slide the end of the strap over the end of the temples. Then position the eyewear on the face and tighten the back of the strap to the point where a light tension counterbalances the weight and the loupes remain stable when the head is tilted slightly forward. Most clinicians are comfortable using the head strap supplied with their loupes, but a variety of straps can be found where sporting goods are sold.

Temples are important in supporting the weight of eyewear, and one of the most overlooked features is how the eyewear fits over the ears. Everyone’s ears are shaped differently, and a quick trip to an optical shop to custom fit the temples to the shape of your head and ears can make the difference between comfort and annoying.

Eyewear nose pads can be another source of aggravation. Most high-end eyewear and loupes are made with soft, silicone nose pads that can be adjusted to create a custom fit on the bridge of your nose. Silicone nose pads come as either a matched pair or a single saddle-shaped strip that goes over the entire bridge of the nose.

Along with creating a custom fit, nose pads also help distribute the weight of eyewear, and prevent loupes or other eyewear from slipping down the nose. Even though new pads feel soft, silicone creates a surface friction that keeps loupes steady on the nose or from slipping off the facemask. Over time, body oils reduce the pliability of silicone, creating a slick surface where the pads can’t grip the surface effectively. Clean the nose pads weekly with a soft cloth moistened by isopropyl alcohol to reduce the effect of body oils.

In addition to cleaning the nose pads, one should tighten all of the screws, paying particular attention to the screws in the hinges where the temples attach to the frame body. Even though the screws may not seem loose, over time they will work their way up through the temple hinge, which creates stress on the frame and eventually distorts the shape and diameter of the screw hole. Permanent frame damage can occur long before the screw pops out. Weekly preventive maintenance is essential for extending the life and comfort of eyewear.

There are several important steps to take when cleaning and disinfecting eyewear or magnification loupes. If the magnification loupes are waterproof, gross debris should be rinsed off under a stream of warm water. Surfaces should be cleaned with premoistened surface-disinfectant wipes or a soft cotton cloth moistened with isopropyl alcohol. Disinfectants that contain glutaraldehyde or iodophor compounds should be avoided.

If you’ve ever had a screw fall out of your eyewear, had a nose pad disintegrate in the middle of the day, or used a flimsy face mask that does not fit your face properly, it makes sense that ignoring or not understanding little details can impact your clinical comfort zone. If you’ve been lucky so far, you should take a few minutes every week to perform these routine preventive maintenance tasks.

Anne Nugent Guignon, RDH, MPH, provides popular programs, including topics on biofilms, power driven scaling, ergonomics, hypersensitivity, and remineralization. Recipient of the 2004 Mentor of the Year Award and the 2009 ADHA Irene Newman Award, Anne has practiced clinical dental hygiene in Houston since 1971.