LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Dental hygienists may be more at risk to contracting the coronavirus than other healthcare workers who do not work in a hospital setting, studies suggest.

“I know my job makes me vulnerable and susceptible to contracting things from patients,” said one dental hygienist, who we are only identifying as Heather. “I don’t want to expose myself or increase my exposure to COVID because I don’t have proper, personal equipment available to me. My employers all have their own interpretation of what is right. That leaves room for error.”

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“There is a lot of confusion right now, and there are some fears,” Jeannette Diaz, the public relations chair for the California Dental Hygienists Association, said. “The problem is we don’t have direct guidance. We are following the CDC’s. We’re following OSHA’s and the recommendations from the California Dental Associations so we’re waiting on the California Department of Public Health, so that’s why this is a concern. Hygienists are being asked to go back to work. Some of them don’t feel safe.”

Some studies show dental hygienists have one of the riskiest, non-hospital jobs during a pandemic.

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“The work that we do does create aerosols. There are airborne and blood-borne diseases that we are exposed to, so our high risk is not something that’s new. However, with this virus, we don’t know enough about it, and that’s where the risk presents itself right now,” Diaz said.

Diaz says most dental offices have been responsible and want to protect their employees and patients. She expects all will add N-95 masks if they are available.

“We currently wear gowns. We wear a mask. We are aware of the different leveled masks. We wear shields. We do wear hair bonnets. These are things that have been recommended for a long time but the problem that we are having is we don’t have any specific guidelines as to what we have to wear now post-COVID,” said Diaz.

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Most dental hygienists work part-time and don’t have health benefits so if they were to contract COVID-19, a trip to the hospital could be very costly.