A rapid epidemiological assessment of dental erosion to assist in settling an industrial dispute.
A rapid epidemiological assessment (REA) of industrial dental erosion was undertaken with the aim of formulating a range of treatment strategies which could be used to settle an industrial dispute. This dispute concerned compensation for a group of adult male metalworkers who had complained of dental sensitivity and that their teeth had been "eaten by acid" at their workplace, an electroplating factory in Springs near Johannesburg, South Africa. The REA methods employed included a clinical examination, a structured socio-demographic questionnaire and colour photographs of each subject. Sixty per cent of the subjects reported pain and/or sensitivity to eating and/or drinking, 76 per cent showed varying degrees of loss of tooth structure, and 25 per cent reported teeth had been lost as a result of the industrial erosion. The project involved negotiating with mine management and trade union representatives, each with conflicting interests, and with people's oral health and large sums of money at stake. In this context, the aim of the research was to design an instrument to resolve conflict and to promote oral health at an industrial site, while retaining scientific objectivity and rigour. As a result of the REA, the workers who were examined are in the process of being compensated, while the National Union of Mineworkers and mine management are engaged in reaching a settlement. Preventive measures have been initiated at the factory. The area has been declared a "respiratory zone", which makes the wearing of respiratory masks obligatory.