By now, we all know that there are different types of facial protection that can be used in a dental setting, the two most common of which are masks and respirators. But do you know the differences between them?
The following chart is an at-a-glance overview of some of the differences between basic medical procedural masks and N95 respirators:
Medical procedure masks are versatile, easy to use, and anyone can wear one. These masks are intended to provide protection to the mucous membranes of the nose and mouth from droplet contamination, as well as providing protection to those around you from droplets you might generate while talking and working. Medical masks do not provide any protection from airborne infections or other aerosols.
This is why you need to do fit testing for every make and model of respirator you might be using. This, when coupled with a seal check before each use, ensures that there is enough of a good fit that the respirator will be able to protect you from contaminants in the air. Respirators are designed to not only protect your mucous membranes, but also your respiratory system by filtering out very small infectious particles from the air.
Special note: The RCDSO has updated their guidelines requiring the use of N95 respirators in the dental setting. Offices are no longer required to wear respirators for every in-person patient interaction, although they may choose to do so based on their personal risk assessments. N95s are still required for all AGP appointments as well as when treating a patient who has a known, suspected, or probable COVID-19 infection.
It is important to take extra caution when mixing masks and N95s since the mask can interfere with the fit or performance of the respirator, as well as increasing the difficulty of breathing. Never wear a medical mask underneath a respirator.