Professionals in oral healthcare know all too well the work they do often involves uncomfortable posture and repetitive movements for prolonged periods of time. Addressing these issues can lead to a more enjoyable, lengthy career.

Print & Go Guidance!

By DOCS Writing Staff

It’s reported that upwards of 40 to 60% of dentists and hygienists suffer from muscle-related problems due to their occupation. If you happen to fall into this category, leaving the office with microtraumas and nagging pains could become increasingly problematic, and inevitably prevent you from having a long and healthy career. A 2015 study published by the British Dental Journal Team cites musculoskeletal disorders of the lower back, shoulders, and hands as the leading cause of illness-related early retirement for dental professionals.

However, there are remedies to alleviate these issues. When good posture is addressed--neck, back, and hand pain can be avoided. Here’s an easy-to-use guide aimed at improving posture and helping to alleviate musculoskeletal disorders that are all too common in this profession.

Pay Attention to How You’re Standing, Moving, and Bending

To improve posture, first become aware of your posture. “How you sit, stand and move at work directly impacts your career’s longevity,” says Lani McBeth, an R.D.H. and clinical educator in Colorado. “Respecting ergonomic principles is important to preventing career-ending injuries,” she continues.

Oral surgeons and dentists, in particular, need to pay special attention to their position and biomechanics. A recent book entitled "Ergonomics and the Dental Care Worker" describes the results from various dental studies consistently showing 40-60% of dental professionals report c-spine symptoms and chronic low back pain from bending over, standing in positions that are not recommended, or holding the same position for far too long.

By paying attention to how you stand, move, and bend during the tasks of your workday you’ll obtain greater kinesthetic awareness, and can therefore work at reducing those movements that pose the highest risk for injuries and microtraumas.

Follow Ergonomic Recommendations from Peers in the Industry

According to the peer-reviewed "Connecting Elements: Ergonomics, Efficiency, and Office Design," posture can be greatly improved by “using mirrors, loupes, and indirect vision instead of constantly bending over your patients.” The author, Jacqueline Russo, RN, DDS, recommends working with your elbows “lower than your shoulders” and adjusting the patient’s chair to fit your position. Make a habit of asking patient to kindly adjust their position to increase access to a particular quadrant, therefore helping to improve your posture.

While many dental operatories are relatively small, keeping items that are needed during a dental appointment within comfortable reach can prevent the repetitive and excessive twisting, bending, and contorting of one’s body to grab things out of reach. By reducing these movements, fatigue and strain are reduced over time.

Think of ergonomics and design in the operatory as a way to reduce unnecessary movements that will promote good posture, not deviate from it.

Utilize the Teamwork Approach of Four-Handed Dentistry

You’ve probably heard the cliché saying, “teamwork makes the dream work,” but in the case of four-handed dentistryit’s absolutely applicable. While technology and innovations in oral healthcare have progressed in recent years, they cannot replace the role four-handed dentistry plays on reducing stress, fatigue, and strain on dentists.

When both the dentist and dental assistant actively engage in accurate four-handed techniques, it can prevent the dentists from making repetitive, strained movements, not to mention adding valuable efficiency to the entire process. Together the dentist and dental assistant should decide the most effective transfer zone. This allows for easy communication on the “how” tools should be passed, as the “where” will always be in the transfer zone.

Choose User-Friendly Instruments and Devices

When purchasing or looking to replace devices, take significant consideration of the equipment design. Choose devices that don’t require excessive force or create movement and sightline problems. Look for equipment that calls out a “user-friendly” design, as that should be top of mind when choosing new instruments and devices.

When it comes to dental chairs, comfort matters to both the patient and the dentist. While there are many different shapes, sizes, and positioning options to consider, it’s important for a dental chair to be adaptable enough for the dentist to remain in a neutral spine position throughout an entire procedure. Meaning, one chair might not fit all dentists in one office.

In Conclusion

On-the-job injuries can be painful for dental professionals and impact the overall longevity and enjoyment of one’s dental career. Over time, seemingly innocent movements can create trauma to the musculoskeletal system that allows our bodies to move with comfort and ease. With attention to how you move and work throughout the day, creating a thought-out plan that addresses the daily stresses faced on the job can be achieved. From choosing the right equipment, to properly utilizing a dental assistant and being more aware of your working posture, oral health professionals can minimize the pain and maximize the enjoyment of a long and healthy dental career.

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