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Updated: Feb 7, 2022

In a 2004 the National Institute of Health published a study on the prevalence of musculoskeletal complaints related to dentistry. A group of 430 dental professionals were surveyed and 62% reported having a musculoskeletal injury complaint within a 12 month period. Of that group, 35% reported having two complaints during that same period. The study concluded that “Hand/wrist complaints are of most importance in terms of occupational related musculoskeletal disorder and ergonomic and educational interventions could hold a prominent role in its prevention.”

Does this sound like you?

If so – the great news is there are excellent resources and strategies that are specifically designed to offer more control in ergonomic best-practices, patient-positioning and body wellness. When utilized, these can be very effective in lowering risk-factors for dental-related musculoskeletal injury.

1. Dental Patient Positioning: Prioritize strategies that overcome patient resistance to full-recline and correct positioning in the dental chair. Any compromise to correct ergonomic positioning increases your risk-factor for musculoskeletal injury.

Patient anxiety is a common obstacle that can inhibit successful ergonomic dental chair positioning. If patients are tense, they will feel more vulnerable and resistant to full-recline. The prevalence of patient anxiety is so high, that in 2018, a National Institute of Health study found 83% of dental patients brought their fears to their dental visit. As a dental professional, you’ll want to make a conscious effort to assess patient’s for anxiety take pro-active steps before attempting recline, so that you can reduce their anxiety fixation and get them ergonomically positioned in the dental chair. Simple actions such as friendly-toned conversations about “what’s new” in the patient’s life, or letting the patient choose what music to listen to, or a television program to watch can help distract past fear-based objections to reclining fully in the dental chair.

Physical discomfort by patients in dental chairs is one of the greatest threats to dental operator ergonomic safety. Out of compassion, dental operators often compromise the safety of their established ergonomic work-angles and treat patients by contorting and stretching. This is a very high-risk strategy that could potentially fast-track an early, injury-related retirement.

The challenge of patient discomfort in dental chairs can often be resolved by using high-quality dental chair cushions that are specifically designed to address both patient comfort and promote correct ergonomic patient-positioning in the dental chair. MediPosture is a leading manufacturer of ergonomically-correct dental chair supports that effectively target patient neck and back strain, as well as full-body comfort when a gentler, more relaxing experience is required. By controlling the patient comfort experience, dental operators will gain the necessary control to protect from musculoskeletal injury through correct ergonomic patient-positioning.

2. Self-Care: The ability to practice dentistry pain free is directly related to self-care and dental ergonomic best-practices. When dental equipment is not optimized for a correct ergonomic workstation, or if a patient is challenging to position, dental operators need to strongly advocate for the protection of their musculoskeletal health. Improvements could include dental saddle chairs, loupes, hand tools, new dental patient chairs or patient cushions. Sometimes its not clear what part of the ergonomic process is failing and it can be frustrating to understand.

Educational resources by experts are available to dental professionals who recognize the importance of optimizing their ergonomic workspace and protecting their health. One such resource is Posturedontics, a dental ergonomics consulting company owned by Dr. Bethany Valachi, PT, DPT, MS, CEAS, a world-renowned expert in dental ergonomics who has developed what she refers to as an evidence-based program called the Well-Body System to help dental professionals keep practicing dentistry pain-free. Included in Dr. Valachi’s instruction are topics such as; How to assess ergonomic risk-factors, how to design a pain-free ergonomic operatory, how to master stress, how to treat and beat myofascial pain, chairside stretches and home exercises to help optimize your musculoskeletal health.

Posture Pros, LLC is another resource that specializes in dental ergonomics consulting. Owner and Founder, Stephanie Botts specializes in providing custom in-office assessments and coaching for dental professionals, as well as CE presentations.

Dental ergonomics involving correct patient-positioning and an optimized dental operatory are critical for protecting against musculoskeletal injuries. If you are experiencing muscular strain, you should immediately advocate for yourself and take action to address the root of the issue. Sometimes big improvements can be made with small investments.

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