Ouch! Preventing Dental Workplace Musculoskeletal Injuries

The best way to avoid the pains and strains of the dental profession is prevention. Incorporating a pre-workday routine just might be the answer.

Print & Go GuidanceBy Genni Burkhart

Dentistry may not immediately come to mind when considering work-related injuries. However, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are relatively common, to the extent that they're the leading cause of illness-related early retirement for dental professionals.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, MSDs represent 34% of lost workdays and are responsible for over 600,000 injuries and illnesses annually.

It's reported that 40 to 60% of dentists and hygienists suffer 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.

However, there are remedies to alleviate these issues. When preventative steps are regularly addressed, neck, back, and hand pain can be avoided. Here's an easy-to-use guide aimed at 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 up to 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.

Dynamic Stretching

Most MSDs are caused by repetitive motion and force, resulting in microtraumas which are problematic for dental professionals. Therefore, proper ergonomics and good posture are essential for dentists and hygienists to prevent these injuries.

Even though stretching is proven to be beneficial during strenuous physical activity, its effectiveness in preventing workplace injuries isn't as straightforward.

As such, not all stretching is created equal. And be forewarned; there's a lot of research and heated debates on stretching, either for or against. So for our purposes, we'll stick to what's most relevant to the dental workplace.

According to relevant research, static stretching (holding a stretch for a set amount of time) may reduce muscle soreness, strains, and sprains. However, it has not been proven effective in preventing overuse injuries that can result in chronic illnesses. (1)

Therefore, dynamic stretching (moving through a full range of motion) is seen as providing increased benefits for injury prevention and improving muscle flexibility that's relevant for dental professionals.

A Pre-Workday Warm-Up?

A proper warm-up can also go a long way in preventing the risk of injury. A literature review reported on the occupational health website worksafept.com found that a 7-minute stretching routine done twice a day by employees reduced work-related musculoskeletal disorders by 62%.

When planning a warm-up, think about the activity you're preparing for and adjust your routine to fit. Focus on your back, legs, neck, shoulders, and hands.

While it goes without saying, you should never feel pain when stretching. If you do, seek your doctor's advice before deciding to "push through" the pain, or you could do more harm than good.

Ready to give a pre-workday warm-up a try? Targeted movements you can incorporate into your warm-up routine include:

Preventing the Ouch!

For most working in dentistry, the physical strain from performing everyday tasks is often overlooked.

When you're a dentist or hygienist, poor posture can lead to microtraumas, whether it's due to bending, crouching, reaching, straining, or holding one position for too long. These microtraumas can cause damage to muscles, tendons, ligaments, and other soft tissues, leading to pain and discomfort.

Poor posture can also weaken the muscles that support the spine, leading to chronic pain and disability.

While the research can go both ways on the effectiveness of stretching to prevent workplace injuries, incorporating a pre-workday routine that includes static and dynamic stretches has shown promising pain-preventing results.

Before starting your day focused on the health of others, take some time, even a few minutes, to take care of yourself. As Benjamin Franklin said, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." And that applies to your health, as well as your patients!


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Author: With over 13 years as a published journalist, editor, and writer Genni Burkhart's career has spanned politics, healthcare, law, business finance, technology, and news. She resides in Northern Colorado, where she works as the Editor in Chief of the Incisor at DOCS Education.


  1. Katie Small, Lars Mc Naughton & Martyn Matthews (2008) A Systematic Review into the Efficacy of Static Stretching as Part of a Warm-Up for the Prevention of Exercise-Related Injury, Research in Sports Medicine, 16:3, 213-231, DOI: 10.1080/15438620802310784
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