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Neuropsychological Dysfunctioning Associated with the Dental Office Environment

Joel R. Butler, Ph.D


The purpose of the present study was to determine: (1) what chemicals are commonly present in a typical dental office and the possible harmful effects (physical and psychological) that might be expected from the nature of such chemicals; and, (2) to what extent do dental office personnel vary on neuropsychological tests from standardised groups.

Results indicate that five chemicals were indigenous to the dental office environment, which may create toxic effects: nitrous oxide, methyl mercury, formaldehyde, phenol and acrylic.

An assessment of fifty-one volunteer dentists and assistants on standardised neuropsycho- logical tests (cognitive, perceptual-motor, personality) revealed there were a significant number of office personnel who measured in the abnormal range on neuropsychological tests. The most common cognitive problems were found to be (1) memory deficits (immediate and recent) in auditory and visual recall, and (2) poor attention, vigilance, concentration, and comprehension. Perceptual-motor difficulty existed including fine- motor hand tremor/sensory-tactile deficits. Finally, some problems in personality functioning were found including difficulty in maintaining emotional stability and coping, as well as mild to moderate depression.

Results indicate there is reason to be concerned about the safety of the dental office environment for some personnel.