You might not have taken on a career in athletics, construction, or landscaping, but as a dental care provider, you’re still performing physical labour. You must take care of your body.
The livelihood of dental practitioners depends on being in a state of solidified, thriving wellbeing, as does the oral health of your patients. This way, you’ll endure throughout a demanding yet fulfilling career where you help make hundreds upon hundreds of people’s lives better through your considered, compassionate care.
Well-maintained and properly performed ergonomics are crucial to a practitioner’s physical wellbeing and musculoskeletal health in any dental setting. Moreover, your body’s betterment will extend to your mind and your bank account.
In other words, keeping spry, pain-free, and physically robust long into your career will continually grow your confidence, sense of happiness, and your yearly earnings.
Unfortunately, musculoskeletal-related issues account for nearly 30% of the cases of early retirement for dentists. That’s more than cardiovascular disease (21.2%), neurotic symptoms (16.5%), tumours (7.6%), and nervous system diseases (6.1%).
Forces conspire against dentists, pulling you away from the safest long-term positions for your body. These are the biggest obstacles in front of your well-maintained and long-sustained musculoskeletal health.
As such, we’re examining the five risk factors that lead dental professionals ergonomically astray and prematurely end their careers.
Paraphrasing OSHA (the U.S.’s workplace health and safety administration), repetitive movements are those that are done every few seconds, or involve repeating motions with the same body part over twice per minute for two straight hours.
With the above sentiments in mind, here are the kinds of injuries you’re open to when exposed to repetitive stress as a dentist due to the continual extension and flexion of the fingers and wrist:
You might not consider what you do as a dentist forceful. And sure, compared to driving a jackhammer through slabs of concrete, you’re not exactly bludgeoning anything. Plus, your role is associated with delicacy and fine-tuned skill, not overpowering movements.
But there are varying degrees of forcefulness.
For instance, lifting, pinching, gripping, pushing, and pulling – all the things you do as a dentist – are forceful actions. Unfortunately, your basic everyday tasks (e.g., teeth scaling) are putting some force, and the resulting strain, on your body.
Our spines only get more rigid as we age, and the effects of hunched-over posture become more glaring.
Your career is riddled with seemingly harmless factors that take a toll on your posture, breaking it down and withering it away. Throughout any given day, you’re repeatedly raising your arms, taking on static/awkward positions, and working with your hands above your head. You’re often stuck positioning your elbows above your shoulders. And it’s very common for you to bend and twist your neck, wrists, and/or back. This all takes a toll.
Low back pain–a pitfall of poor posture–is experienced by up to 90% of people. As a dentist, you’re placing more stress on your spinal disks when handling, lifting, or lowering objects while your back is twisted or bent.
What’s worse, two-thirds of low back pain patients find it persists after their first episode. This ailment is difficult to heal from and only degenerates further with age.
It’s not just your lower back at risk due to poor posture as a dentist. There’s your hips, knees, wrists, and shoulders–all as valuable to you as gold in your profession.
Here are some situations in the workplace where your posture might suffer. Try being mindful during these scenarios to maintain proper form:
How many times a day does your body brush up against a workstation component?
Better yet, how frequently are you in continuous contact with sharp and/or hard objects (e.g., narrow, unpadded tool handles, desk edges)? Or, for one last example, how often are you suddenly applying pressure during treatments, such as using compressive force?
These examples are all considered damaging forms of contact stress, defined as force being concentrated on a small area of the body. It results in the pinching or – far worse – crushing of the tissue, leading to pain and discomfort for dentists far and wide.
It’s hard to imagine providing your patients optimal care without using vibrating tools and equipment for at least two hours per day. But doing so leaves you open to a condition called hand-arm vibration syndrome.
This incredibly specific condition leads to the sensations in your fingers changing, which can deteriorate into permanent finger numbness, muscle weakness. You might even experience bouts of “white finger".
Hand-arm vibration syndrome is untreatable, and there’s no effective treatment to make it much better.
It’s not easy to stave off the ergonomic risk factors in your line of work. These hostile forces seem staunchly intent on breaking your body down.
But you can still be proactive and quite handily defeat the conspiring forces working against you.
Your keys to long-term victory rest upon you doing the little things right, like keeping your arms bent 90-degrees at the elbow. Moreover, position your patients properly, use armrests for added support, and use an ergonomic loupe to obtain an upright, neutral working position.
Also, you’ll want to keep your hands close to your body because extending outwardly too far increases lower-back stress.
Here’s one final suggestion: purchasing an adjustable stool with proper back/lumbar support and dynamic performance capabilities.
It’s absolutely integral you start looking at every angle to improve the ergonomics at your practice. You’ll get the most out of your own performance, and your team will thrive as well.
Most importantly, your career and long-term earning potential depend on your proactivity in the ergonomic domain. Making an effort to mitigate risk factors now can prevent you from a world of pain, heartache, and early retirement down the line.