Dentist offices often try to bring a level of comfort and relaxation to patients, with easy-listening music playing in the background. But in reality, your office is never quiet. Throughout the day, you and your staff are using ultrasonic scalers, high-speed drills, air compressors and instrument cleaners in addition to other tools.

That noise can take its toll on your hearing. Noise levels in a dentist’s office routinely reach 90 decibels, with some machines topping 100 dB. Noises above 70 dB over a long period may damage your hearing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As a result, dentists are twice as likely to suffer from hearing loss as the general population, and 21% of dental professionals have some type of hearing-related condition.

Learn the signs of hearing loss

So what can you do to avoid hearing loss? Start by establishing a baseline for your hearing. Get your hearing checked by an audiologist, and then periodically get it re-tested to see if there are any changes.

Hearing loss is irreversible but preventable. Learn how to recognize the symptoms of hearing loss, which include:

  • Trouble understanding conversations
  • Not being able to hear people when there is background noise
  • Keeping the radio or TV at a high level
  • Asking people to repeat themselves
  • Complaining that others don’t speak clearly

Protecting your ears in the office

You can take steps to reduce the amount of noise that gets into your ears. Some dentists and hygienists wear earplugs, but this can get in the way of good communication with your patient.

“Going to the dentist is such a vulnerable experience for patients,” said Dr. Jessica Buehler, Delta Dental’s director of dental affairs. “Dentists need to stay in touch with them, and it’s very hard to maintain that level of communication with earplugs in. They need to be able to hear physical responses.”

Luckily, technology is catching up. New earpieces with custom electronic circuitry compress sound when it reaches dangerous levels. When the noise decreases, it allows normal sounds back into the ear. These can cost anywhere from $35 to $600, depending on the technology and the noise compression you want to achieve.

Reducing the noise in your office can also help. Keeping your tools in good repair can lower the volume of sound they emit. You can also upgrade your cleaning and drilling equipment to the latest technology, which tends to be less noisy. Adding acoustic treatments to the walls of your room can help absorb the sound. Also, consider adding doors and soundproofing walls in rooms where the noise gets high, especially those that have your cleaning equipment and are generally empty.

You can also try to scale teeth manually instead of using the ultrasound scaler, one of the biggest culprits of noise in the office. But manual scaling can take a toll on your hands and wrists, especially if you have multiple clients in a day.

It’s impossible to get away from all noise while you’re in the office, but reducing your exposure to the louder sounds will help preserve your hearing and prevent permanent damage in the future.