Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) are prevalent among dental professionals. They are caused by holding poor posture positions in the course of their practice. It is reported that two out of three dentists and dental hygienists are suffering from WMSDs that might cause them pain in the neck, shoulder, hand, back, low back, etc.
Most dental professionals are not aware of the mistakes they make regarding their workstation ergonomics or the beneficial exercises they can do that would prevent them from experiencing excruciating pain. Musculoskeletal disorders may cause injuries and even disabilities, that can potentially make dentists unable to continue their careers for the rest of their lives. So, it is vital to exercise precautionary steps to prevent WMSDs and eliminate the risk of any pain, syndromes, or injuries.
Dental professionals should consider rectifying their adverse mistakes during career performance. Most dentists and hygienists are at risk of WMSDs due to ergonomic errors including:
1) 10 O’clock Position
Working while holding the 10 o’clock position can lead to shoulder, arm, and hand pain as it would mean lifting one’s arms over the patient and leaning to one side. The 12 o’clock position is the optimum posture for preventing these types of ailments. In the 12 o’clock position, arms are not elevated and dentists can easily straddle the patient’s head. Dental professionals should keep in mind that 70% of treatment can be performed in the 11-12 o’clock position.
2) TTL Loupes
A forward head posture that is greater than 20 degrees can lead to severe neck pain. Through-the-lens (TTL) loupes do not allow dentists to keep a safe head posture. Also, utilizing long barrel (high magnification) scopes mounted in through-the-lens frames potentially result in an increased amount of pressure on the cervical spine that is usually combined with poor declination angle, leading to severe neck pain and dysfunction. The optimal head posture angle is less than 20 degrees.
3) Sitting Too Low
When thighs are parallel to the floor while sitting on a flat seat pan, the pelvis is rolled backward and the low back curve is flattened. Flattening of the lumbar curve has a detrimental effect on both spinal musculature and the discs. Hips should be higher than knees. Adjusting operator stool to a higher level can result in thighs sloping more steeply downward which helps the lumbar curve maintain its position. When hips are positioned higher than knees, muscle strain, disc pressure, and low back pain can be prevented.
MSDs & Neck Pain
Neck pain is one of the most prevalent musculoskeletal complaints among dental professionals, particularly dentists. There are several measures to avert neck pain such as:
1. Maintaining Safe Head Posture
As mentioned earlier, the optimum declination angle is less than 20 degrees. Bending the neck forward for more than 20 degrees would result in severe neck pain. Ultra-lightweight vertically adjustable flip-up loupe with its very steep declination angle when positioned lower than the pupil can provide dentists with an optimal head posture with less than 20 degrees of neck flexion.
2. Taking Postural Correction Exercise
Slouching places great strain on the trapezius muscle attached to the cervical vertebrae that can result in developing acute neck pain. There are many correction exercises available that can be done chairside with gloves on.
3. Preserving the Cervical Curve
The cervical curve should be preserved as many musculoskeletal problems stem from the loss of this curvature. Using a neck support cushion or inserting a round, cylindrical cervical roll into pillowcases at night will support the cervical curve. Buckwheat hull pillows are optimal for the prevention of developing neck pain, and it is for the same reasons that feather pillows should be avoided. Furthermore, sleeping on one’s stomach can intensify neck pain due to its flattened position.
4. Using Armrests
The armrests of a chair can act as reminders of how a neutral position that puts the least amount of pressure and strain on the shoulders should be. This is especially important for the dentists to use since much of their practice requires them to operate on the patient with their arms lifted for long intervals.
5. Treat Trigger Points with Caution
The upper trapezius muscles are the muscles most sensitive to emotional stress. Therefore, high tension can lead to neck pain. Moisture, heat, and stretching can be helpful to relieve this pain.