SINGAPORE - A visit to the dentist can be nerve-racking at the best of times - and especially so during a pandemic.
Now Singapore researchers have invented a tent-like device designed to protect dentists and patients worried about catching Covid-19.
The Dental Dart, which is placed around the patient's head, will soon be available to clinics locally and around the world at an affordable price.
It was developed by four researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) to help dental staff, who have a high risk of contamination due to their close proximity to patients and exposure to infectious droplets or particles during routine procedures.
It could also help patients feel safer. Co-inventor Professor Mandeep Singh Duggal, from the NUS Faculty of Dentistry, said: "Our Dental Dart can help provide a safer environment in the dental clinic setting, and decrease the anxiety and psychological distresses imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic on all parties involved."
The Dental Dart - which stands for Dental Droplet And Aerosol Reducing Tent - follows a similar invention by the NUS and National University Hospital in June to give front-line healthcare workers more protection from Covid-19.
The tent is portable, foldable and can be placed around the head as a barrier to protect dentists, nurses and patients from exposure.
There are access ports to allow dentists and nurses to work with minimal limitations, and it can be sterilised and reused safely.
Its effectiveness was tested during scaling procedures, which are known to significantly increase air contamination.
The Dental Dart was put through early clinical tests between August and this month, with the researchers measuring the amount of bacteria found on the surface of dental chair lights, and on face shields worn by dentists after scaling procedures.
The results showed less viable bacteria on these surfaces following procedures done using Dental Dart.
Associate Professor and co-inventor Vinicius Rosa, from the NUS Faculty of Dentistry, said: "Personal protective equipment, or PPE, can be infected after being exposed to aerosols from dental procedures. The use of the Dental Dart can decrease the PPE exposure to aerosols and prevent further environmental contamination."
A patent for the invention has been filed.
Professor Freddy Boey, NUS Deputy President (Innovation & Enterprise) and lead researcher for the project, added that the team will help clinics interested in purchasing the invention early to get in contact with the respective manufacturers.
Full-scale clinical studies to reinforce the product's effectiveness will begin early next year, and will focus on improving its functionality and user experience.