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COVID-19: Dental patients could wear helmets to suck drops away



You thought the dentist could not get worse? Patients could soon be asked to wear helmets that suck up any COVID-infected cough drops

  • Healthcare professionals have a higher risk of getting a COVID infection
  • The helmet keeps dentists safe while letting them work on the patient’s mouth
  • A pump attached to the top of the disposable helmet creates a reverse airflow
  • If the patient coughs, any drops are sucked back and cannot escape

To protect dentists from catching coronavirus, patients could soon be asked to wear open-face helmets that suck drops that are coughed with COVID.

The disposable transparent helmets were developed by experts from New York’s Cornell University and are connected to a pump that creates a reverse airflow around the head.

This ensures that any infected droplets are trapped in the airflow that enters through the mouth opening – and are unable to escape the helmet.

In addition to dentists, the concept could also be used by so-called ear, nose and throat doctors – who also need access to the patient’s heads and neck.

Healthcare professionals have a higher risk of COVID-19 infection because they often come in contact with symptomatic or asymptomatic patients.

At present, the protection from N95 masks and face shields comes with the use of empty clinic rooms or so-called ‘negative pressure’ rooms with air filtration.

However, experts have warned that these measures are expensive and often neither very effective nor available – unlike the new safety helmet.

To protect dentists from catching coronavirus, patients could soon be asked to wear helmets with open faces that suck drops that are coughed with COVID, which they cough up, as shown

The helmet designed by the team is connected at its crown to a medical-grade air filtration pump that creates the reverse flow of air that prevents cough drops from coming out of the helmet.

Using a computer-based fluid dynamics simulation, the researchers determined that the helmet would be able to hold 99.6 percent of the emitted droplets when the wearer coughs within a tenth of a second.

‘To put this in context, if we use the same air pump to create a vacuum room with negative pressure, it will take about 45 minutes to remove 99% of the airborne pollutants from the room,’ said paper writer and engineer Mahdi Esmaily.

The design has a transparent shell of 0.04 inches (1 millimeter) that completely closes the head and neck – with the exception of the vacuum port and the aperture, which provides access to the mouth.

A nozzle attached to the mouth access port serves to widen the distance at which droplets are to move against the stream – thereby minimizing their chance of escaping from the helmet through the opening.

At the same time, this allows for a smoother flow transition that reduces patient discomfort generated by air turbulence, the researchers said.

The helmet could also greatly reduce operating costs by replacing current practices – such as creating pressurized spaces with air filtration, which can cost tens of thousands of pounds.

The cost of each helmet could be as cheap as a few dollars (around £ 1.50) if made from disposable material, the researchers said.

High efficiency particulate air filter (HEPA) with negative air filter designed to power helmets is readily available and costs around £ 740 ($ 1,000).

Healthcare professionals have a higher risk of COVID-19 infection because they often come in contact with symptomatic or asymptomatic patients. At present, the protection from N95 masks and face shields comes with the use of empty clinic rooms or so-called ‘negative pressure’ rooms with air filtration. However, experts have warned that these measures are expensive and often neither very effective nor accessible – unlike the new safety helmet

‘Our next step is to refine the helmet design for higher efficiency and wider use,’ explained paper author and mechanical engineer Dongjie Jia, also at Cornell University.

‘Then we plan to build prototypes of the helmet and perform experiments to verify our simulation predictions.’

The simulation framework used to evaluate the helmet concept could meanwhile be used to study other particle-related phenomena and designs, the team added.

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Physics of Fluids.

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