Factors involved in dental surgery fires: A review of the literature

Andrea M. Vancleave, James E. Jones, D. James, Mark A. Saxen, Brian J. Sanders, Laquia A. Walker

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

8 Scopus citations


Surgical fires are well-characterized, readily preventable, potentially devastating operating room catastrophes that continue to occur from 20 to 100 times per year or, by one estimate, up to 600 times per year in US operating rooms, sometimes with fatal results. The most significant risk factors for surgical fires involve (a) the use of an ignition source, such as laser or electrocautery equipment, in or around an oxygenenriched environment in the head, neck, and upper torso area and (b) the concurrent delivery of supplemental oxygen, especially via nasal cannula. Nonetheless, while these 2 conditions occur very commonly in dental surgery, especially in pediatric dental surgery where sedation and anesthesia are regularly indicated, there is a general absence of documented dental surgical fires in the literature. Barring the possibility of underreporting for fear of litigation, this may suggest that there is another mechanism or mechanisms present in dental or pediatric dental surgery that mitigates this worstcase risk of surgical fires. Some possible explanations for this include: greater fire safety awareness by dental practitioners, incidental ventilation of oxygen-enriched environments in patient oral cavities due to breathing, or suction used by dental practitioners during procedures. This review of the literature provides a background to suggest that the practice of using intraoral suction in conjunction with the use of supplemental oxygen during dental procedures may alter the conditions needed for the initiation of intraoral fires. To date, there appear to be no published studies describing the ability of intraoral suctioning devices to alter the ambient oxygen concentration in an intraoral environment. In vivo models that would allow examination of intraoral suction on the ambient oxygen concentration in a simulated intraoral environment may then provide a valuable foundation for evaluating the safety of current clinical dental surgical practices, particularly in regard to the treatment of children.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)21-25
Number of pages5
JournalAnesthesia progress
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014


  • Airway fire
  • Dental treatment
  • Dentistry
  • Operating room
  • Surgical fire

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine

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