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283 Medical Laboratories
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 335-9569; fax (319) 335-8034

Release: Immediate

UI dental clinic responds to problem of latex allergy

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- For people allergic to latex -- the natural rubber used in gloves and many other products -- a trip to the dentist can be uncomfortable and even dangerous. The very devices meant to protect health care professionals and patients can cause hives, watery eyes and potentially serious breathing problems.

Dr. Natalie Henke, director of the University of Iowa College of Dentistry Oakdale Dental Clinic, says awareness of latex allergy is growing, especially among health care professionals. Although only about 1 percent of the general population is allergic to latex, between 5 and 17 percent of health care workers develop the problem, which can be caused by long-term exposure to latex products.

"Statistics show that dentistry is a profession with one of the highest rates of latex sensitivity," Henke says. Rates are also high among people who have undergone multiple surgeries, food service workers and rubber industry workers.

The problem of latex allergy has received greater attention since dentists and other health care professionals began regular use of latex gloves as a safety measure. More patients and practitioners began to develop latex sensitivity, possibly due in part to inferior products that contained high levels of allergy-causing substances.

For patients very sensitive to latex, simply avoiding direct contact with latex products may not be enough to avoid reactions. The powdered gloves used in many health care settings can produce airborne allergens when latex proteins mingle with glove powder.

The UI College of Dentistry offers an option for people with latex allergies. Its Oakdale Dental Clinic provides general dental care in a latex-safe environment. The clinic is located on the Oakdale Research Campus northwest of Iowa City.

Staff at the clinic use non-latex gloves, masks, orthodontic rubber bands, syringes and other latex-free products. They can refer patients who suspect they may have allergies to the UI Hospital and Clinics for testing and are developing a patient questionnaire to trace latex allergy symptoms. For more information, call the Oakdale Dental Clinic at (319) 335-4041.