Personal protective equipment you need to hear about
You don your scrubs, your mask, your gloves, your loupes, your headlight—and you think you're protecting yourself from the occupational hazards of the dental office. But there's another type of personal protective equipment (PPE) you might be forgetting: earplugs. Hear about them here from Judy Bendit, RDH, BS.
AS A NATIONAL SPEAKER, I TRAVEL OFTEN, but when I am home, one of my favorite things to do is watch Shark Tank. I record it if I can’t watch it in real time. A few years ago, I became hooked after I saw Bev and Charlotte doing their pitch for the xylitol candy, Ice Chips.
It’s important for all of us to stay current about the latest and greatest in dental products. This is especially true for me because I teach. I talk to representatives of many dental companies on a regular basis. I read all of my journals every month. I look for new products when I walk around dental conventions. I stop at every booth. I discuss new products at every chance I get. How cool is it that I learned about a new product—high-fidelity earplugs—while at home, watching my favorite program? The product is called Vibes. I called the company to ask for samples for me and a few colleagues. Everyone loved them. I also asked the company to tell the story about how they came to be.
The birth of Vibes
Jackson Mann loved concerts, but he was unaware of the dangers when he positioned himself too close to the stage at a particularly loud show. The result was ear pain, temporary hearing loss, and a diagnosis of a ruptured eardrum. The physician’s recommendation was that Mann (and everyone else) should wear ear protection at concerts and other events where the sound level is above 85 decibels (dB). Never wanting to experience ear pain or ringing again, Mann reached for a pair of old foam earplugs, which he found effective at blocking sound. However, those foam earplugs also blocked the frequencies of sound that carry music and speech. The foam earplugs destroyed the concert experience for him. Not to mention, they were uncomfortable and ugly. He knew there had to be a better way.
Mann's horrid concert experiences resulted in his invention of Vibes high-fidelity earplugs. By using an acoustic filter, Vibes earplugs allow music and speech to come through as clear as they were intended, just at a lower decibel level. The transparent outer tube makes them difficult to see in the ear. The three ear tip sizes provided ensure a comfortable fit.
These earplugs revolutionized Mann's concert experience, and he wanted to introduce them to the concert-going masses. His desire to take the product to a broad audience was helped tremendously when his product was spied in a blog by the producers of Shark Tank. They invited him to apply for the show just three months after launch. He was accepted, and the first segment aired in January 2017. Although he declined the investment offer he received, the demand for Vibes exponentially increased as a result of the product appearing on the show. Vibes took off.
But something else happened—he was flooded with messages from users who found other applications for the earplugs. It seemed that a lot of people needed to reduce the volume in their environments while maintaining sound quality and clear speech. Dentists and hygienists using Vibes reported that the earplugs solved a problem that had existed in their workplaces for some time.
Noisy dental offices
Hearing loss is an occupational hazard of the dental profession, and dental professionals are susceptible to the development of permanent hearing loss. My father, a retired dentist, and many of his colleagues and contemporaries, have all suffered from some level of hearing loss as a result of handpieces buzzing near their ears for so many years.
According to a study published in the Journal of Dental Sciences and Research, dental professionals encounter a barrage of noises on a daily basis. (1) The sound levels exceed the normal background noise that most people encounter in their daily lives. The study was performed in 89 dental offices and nine dental laboratories. (1) In dental clinics, the study found that the maximum sound level was slightly higher than the 85 dB level that is proven to cause hearing loss. (1) In the laboratory, the highest noise level was caused during grinding by the stonecutter at 92 dB. (1) Clinicians and laboratory technicians are at risk if they choose to work unprotected.
High-fidelity earplugs versus foam earplugs
Unlike foam earplugs that block and muffle sounds, high-fidelity earplugs use acoustic filters to lower the decibels equally from high to low frequencies. Sound is reduced an average of 22 dB across all frequencies. Vibes high-fidelity earplugs can reduce dental equipment noise from an average of 85 dB to a safer and more comfortable 63 dB. This also allows for easier communication with patients and colleagues.
Vibes are both effective and affordable. They are priced below $30 per pair, including different ear tip sizes for maximum fit. They also come with a handy plastic carrying case and a neck cord as needed.
New designs bring greater safety
Earplugs are not new to dentistry. I started speaking about them more than 15 years ago as part of my ultrasonic course. As clinicians started using power scaling more frequently, noise became more of an issue, even exceeding the damaging sound of the old high-speed handpieces.
About five years ago, Dental Innovations LLC introduced the DI-15 high-definition electronic earplugs, which utilize a microchip and retail at $625. There is a place in the market for both DI-15 earplugs and Vibes earplugs. Not everyone can afford high-end ear protection, so Vibes are an introductory option for many clinicians.
My own noisy world
Just like Mann, I live in my own noisy little world, so I have had the opportunity to use the Vibe earplugs both in and out of a clinical setting. I recently had some construction done in my home. The noise was deafening, but the earplugs really helped make it manageable. So, whether for use in the office or at home, I recommend Vibes high-fidelity earplugs.
To learn more about the earplugs, visit discovervibes.com.
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1. Kumar PR, Sharma P, Kalavathy N, Kashinath KR. Hearing damage and its prevention in dental practice. J Dent Sci Res. 2011;2(2):32-35.
Judy Zack Bendit, RDH, BS, was born and raised in a dental office and has more than 40 years of experience in dentistry. She is a speaker, an author, a clinician, a faculty member at the Temple University School of Dentistry, an alumni board member at the University of Pennsylvania Dental School, and an advisory board member for Palm Beach State College's dental hygiene program. She is also a longstanding member of American Dental Hygienists' Association and a Distinguished Academy member of the Pennsylvania Dental Hygienists' Association, and she is a volunteer clinician both at home and abroad.