UAB School of Dentistry implements new technology in response to COVID-19

To protect the health of patients, students and staff, UAB’s School of Dentistry has acquired new technology to help with temperature scanning and aerosol filtration system.

Editor's Note: The information published in this story is accurate at the time of publication. Always refer to for UAB's current guidelines and recommendations relating to COVID-19.

SOD screening process - temperature displayTo protect the health of patients, students and staff, UAB’s School of Dentistry has acquired new technology to help with temperature scanning and aerosol filtration system.
Photography: Lexi Coon
When COVID-19 began impacting day-to-day operations in spring 2020, programs and schools at the University of Alabama at Birmingham realized that, in order to reintegrate back into a new normal alongside the virus, changes would have to be made to protect the health and safety of students, faculty, patients and staff during unprecedented times. 

At the UAB School of Dentistry, doctors and researchers started problem solving. They put new technology and resources in place to mitigate COVID-19 and make the school as safe as possible, from equipping the front entrance of the school with infrared body temperature scanners to aerosol-minimizing technology in patient operatories.  

“I am very proud of our students, staff and faculty for the leadership to keep us all safe,” said Russell S. Taichman, DMD, DMSc, dean of the School of Dentistry. “The creative ‘MacGyvering’ was inspirational. A huge lift, but we are far better for it.”

Perng-Ru Liu, DDS, M.S., DMD, associate dean of Clinical Affairs in the School of Dentistry, explained more about the technology put in place in the wake of the pandemic.

What type of temperature scanning technology does the school have, and how does it work?

We started to explore the possibility of using an infrared body temperature measuring system to quickly, safely and accurately measure the body temperature of a great number of people who come through the doors of the School of Dentistry each day. We know that fever is a sign of COVID-19, so like all other schools and clinics on campus, screening from all entry points is key. Our system, the JP&J Infrared Non-contact Physiological Sensing System, is helping us do just that.  

SODtemp5Patients of the School are greeted with a temperature scanning machine upon arrival to ensure they are well.
Photography: Lexi Coon
All objects, including the human body, are able to emit infrared energy, which is a kind of electromagnetic radiation below the normal visible light. The JP&J Infrared Non-contact Physiological Sensing System uses a detector that combines the technology of radar and infrared to detect the surface temperature of the face. The system then displays the temperature reading on the indicating screen. It can measure face temperature immediately within seconds, from 6 feet away.

The lack of contact between a person scanning patients at the door leads to less or even no chance of contamination, allowing for quicker and safer use when scanning large groups of patients, employees and students. 

Furthermore, the system can perform facial recognition and measure heart rate and breathing rate, as well as count the number of people entering the building to ensure we are not at a high capacity and can practice social distancing. 

What do you do if someone shows that they have a fever?  

If the body temperature detected reaches the alarm threshold setting — which is 100.4o for COVID-19 — a hand-held infrared thermometer is used to reconfirm the temperature. If body temperature is high on both measurements, the person is advised to seek medical evaluation and/or go home to rest.

Who monitors the temperature scanning system?  

The School of Dentistry established a Guest Services Rotation for the third- and fourth-year dental students as part of their clinical training. This rotation incorporates the body temperature scanning into their duties, and helps our students also develop a new understanding of how to keep patients, staff and others safe during this unprecedented time.  

SODtemp3The EOVA helps capture lingering aerosol from procedures to ensure a safe and clean environment.
Photography: Lexi Coon
How does the ExtraOral Vacuum Aspirator system help mitigate aerosol in procedures?

In order to protect the health of dentists, dental assistants and patients, dental clinics must implement infection-control procedures to minimize dental aerosols, and COVID-19 has allowed us to reevaluate strategies that help us do that.

In dentistry, dental aerosol is created from the use of compressed air and water in dental tools, forming a suspension of solid and liquid particles in a gas. Dental aerosol can be composed of water, saliva, plaque and microorganisms, such as bacteria, fungus and viruses. Dental aerosol can create concerns and possibly lead to respiratory infections and disease transmission, such as COVID-19 if an asymptomatic COVID-positive patient is having work done*. It can remain airborne and land on nearby surfaces up to 3 feet away, leading to possible inhalation or direct contact of bacteria and pathogens.  

In normal times, the assistant supporting the dentist holds a suction to capture aerosols, but with the heightened awareness of COVID-19, the EOVA (e.g., PAX2000X Extraoral Dental Suction System) utilizes a self-supportive arm to position the suction hood near the source of aerosols (oral cavity), with a powerful motor to draw dental aerosol particles into the filtration system. The medical-grade HEPA 14 filter provides 99.99 percent air purification on particles 0.1 microns and larger. The system then releases the filtered air back into the surrounding room, thereby improving the indoor air quality of the dental clinics.

* UAB School of Dentistry is not treating COVID-positive patients at this time.

People may be nervous to visit the dentist during this pandemic time. Why is it important to continue to see your dentistry regularly?

Patients of the School of Dentistry can rest assured knowing that they are coming for treatment in a safe and sterile environment, and that their health and safety is paramount.

Regular dental care not only maintains the healthy teeth and a bright smile, it is also extremely important for patients who have chronic systemic diseases such as diabetes, lung disease, kidney disease and heart disease. There are clear connections between the oral health and general health of patients — without good oral health, patients cannot have good general health.

In addition to the new technology we have added, dental professionals always assume that all patients are either infectious or carriers of disease and take as many safety precautions as possible to protect the safety of dental staff and other patients.  

The best way to minimize dental aerosol is utilizing a layered prevention approach with multiple protections. The School of Dentistry is following the CDC-specific recommended guidelines to minimize airborne dental aerosol in the clinics. 

  • All patients are pre-screened for COVID-19 symptoms and contact history before their dental appointments and are required to wear masks upon arrival.
  • All dental care providers and dental auxiliaries are wearing proper personal protective equipment, including N95 masks, surgical masks, gloves, eyewear, face shields and gowns.
  • Patients are asked to use an antimicrobial mouth rinse before the procedure to mitigate the oral microorganisms.
  • Providers use the four-handed dentistry protocol with the high-velocity air evacuation to reduce airborne dental aerosol.
  • Providers use the EOVA with a medical-grade HEPA 14 filter and ultraviolet germicidal system.