What Are the Differences Between Face Masks?

a dental professional wearing one of many different types of face masks

While in dental assistant school, you will learn the differences between the face masks used in a dentist’s office. Although you might be used to seeing the traditional paper versions with pleats, the N95 has been propelled to the forefront because of COVID-19. But why are there so many and how can you know when to use the right one? These are common questions an aspiring dental assistant like yourself will ask and fortunately, this article will help provide you with the answers you need.   

How Are Dental Masks Different?

While size, fit, and appearance cause face masks to be different, these are not necessarily what dentists are looking for when determining which ones to use. Instead, all medical and surgical masks are classified according to the standards created by the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM). Recognized by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), these masks are graded according to a list of criteria, including:

  • Bacterial Filtration Efficiency (BFE): Determines how much bacteria are filtered when using an aerosol that contains bacteria. Also, it must receive a 95% filtration to receive a medical/surgical grade.
  • Particulate Filtration Efficiency (PFE): Measures how many submicron particles will be filtered.
  • Fluid Resistance: This determines how well the mask minimizes fluid that can be easily transferred from an outside source to its inner layer (i.e. spray).
  • Differential Pressure (Delta P): This measures the airflow resistance and how breathable the mask is when used. If resistance is higher, the mask offers better filtration but can make it more difficult to breathe.
  • Flame Spread: This grade determines how well the mask stands up to being exposed to a burning flame for at least three seconds.

What Are the Different Levels?

While some are considered “low performance,” all ASTM masks fall into three categories: Level 1, Level 2, or Level 3. Each level is based on the above-mentioned criteria.

Level 1 masks are most commonly used during a regular dental checkup and cleaning, while taking impressions of a patient’s mouth, performing lab work, or providing orthodontic care.

Level 2 masks offer a moderate level of protection from aerosols. Dentists using these masks may be performing non-surgical periodontal therapy, dental sealants, restorative dentistry, endodontics, or other, less invasive oral surgery.

Dental professionals who used Level 3 masks are often performing dental implant placement, periodontal surgery, more complex oral procedures, or dental crown preparation. Because these masks offer the greatest level of filtration, it is recommended that dental team members wear these Level 3 masks over their reusable N95.

Knowing which mask will better protect you and your patient is crucial. As an aspiring dental assistant, don’t be afraid to ask questions and receive clarification, as these pieces of personal protective equipment are now more important than ever.

About Dental Assistant Pro
For more than 25 years, Dental Assistant Pro has been providing aspiring dental assistants with essential knowledge and hands-on skills learning. Our philosophy is the best dental assisting training should be taught in a dental office at an affordable cost, so why not take a chance and enroll in our 10-week dental assistant course schedule? It’s now more affordable than ever to become a dental assistant! To learn more about us, visit our website or call (513) 515-6611.

Next Class Starts Soon


Classes are filling up quickly.

Cost & Payment Options

  • Class Schedules
  • Current Cost & Payment Plans
  • Financial Options
  • Low Tuition (so everyone can afford it)


Reviews From Our Students