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Thursday Troubleshooter: A battle over the use of essential oils in the dental office

Feb. 22, 2018
This dental team member is tired of her coworker complaining that she's sensitive to the scents of essential oils. Can this really be a problem? She'd rather mask the smell of the office.

Nearly everyone has problems and concerns on the job, and sometimes you're just too close to a situation to solve something yourself. Share your concerns with Team Troubleshooter, and the experts will examine the issues and provide guidance. Send questions to [email protected].


QUESTION: My coworker complained that my oil diffuser made her nauseous and gave her a headache. She says she’s very “sensitive,” but she complains often about a lot of things. She said she could show me a doctor's note about her sensitivity. I’ve switched to a different oil. Now we’re waiting to see if this makes her nauseous. I have a problem giving up the diffuser because our patients like the scents, which mask the dental office smell. What would you recommend I do?

ANSWER FROM DEBRA GRANT, RDH, MA, resource on alternative therapies and products and founder of Oraspa: Yes, your coworkers could have headaches from the oils. Essential oils have been around for over 5,000 years and have been used as medicines throughout the centuries. There are a few things you should take into consideration when using essential oils.

Have you taken everyone’s medical history to see if they’re allergic to specific oils, including your patients? They can have severe negative reactions and not even be aware of their allergy or sensitivity. Therefore, your coworker may be labeling this as a “sensitivity” without any origin on her part.

In addition, there’s the emotional part of the medical intake form that has to be taken into consideration when you use essential oils. The “sensitivity” could be caused from a bad memory association. Don’t forget the skin contact from the vapor from the diffuser. Using essential oils in the dental office without proper training is an added liability that the dentist does not need. Just because someone likes a scent does not mean that it’s good for them. As an aroma scientist, I know that this is something that’s extremely important in protecting patients and coworkers.

Dental professionals don’t like anyone who’s unqualified dabbling in their scope of practice, and the same goes for aroma scientists. We know that no one should play with essential oils in the dental office thinking they know what an oil says on each single note. (An example is an individual oil such as lavender.)

Enjoy and play with the oils on yourself and your friends, but not in the dental office. With all due respect, you must remove the diffuser, and it’s not just for this coworker; it’s for the safety of your patients and the liability of the dental office.

Editor's note:Oraspa is the only training course that has the education and Dental Essential oils designed to be used specifically and safely in the dental office.


ANSWER FROM JAMIE COLLINS, RDH, CDA, educator at the College of Western Idaho:
I can relate to having coworkers and patients who are sensitive to different smells, and like you I enjoy having a scent to mask the odor of dental life. On the other hand, many people do have legitimate sensitivities to certain smells that cause headaches, sneezing, or congestion, all of which are miserable to work with.

There are other options of scents to try that may not be as strong as what you’re using. For example, Roman chamomile is a floral scent, and like lavender it can have a calming effect. Bergamot is a citrus oil that has uplifting qualities without being too strong or overwhelming to the senses for most. Neroli is an oil that is derived from the orange blossom, with a light floral citrus scent that’s clean and slightly flowery.

For some people, the smell of something citrusy versus flowery is more acceptable to the senses, and it will still smell clean and mask the odor of the dental office. To accommodate people who are sensitive to smells, try one that is considered milder than most. I would try to work together with your coworker to find a scent she can tolerate, and this will make both of you happy. If no decision can be reached, the decision to use candles and oil diffusers lies with the doctor.


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About the Author

Team Troubleshooter

This weekly column on DentistryIQ features questions from everyday people who work in dental practices, who have issues they would like addressed by the experts. Those who regularly take the time to answer questions include Rebecca Boartfield, Patti DiGangi, Dr. Chris Salierno, Laura Hatch, Karen Daw, Jill Townsend, Lisa Marie Spradley, Shelley Renee, Judy Kay Mausolf, Robin Morrison, Paul Edwards ... and the list is growing.

Send your question or issue for an expert to address to [email protected].. You'll be glad you did.