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Dangerous Career?! The Most Common Injuries to Dental Professionals

“[T]he majority of dental hygienists are like slow motion train wrecks; their bodies are ready to derail without much provocation.”

– Anne Nugent Guignon, RDH, MPH

Unlike the job of a police officer or a roughneck on an oil rig, the job of a dental professional doesn’t seem very risky, does it? But that’s not necessarily true. According to the Dental Research Journal, dentistry is “considered by the practitioners and most of the public as being extremely hazardous.”

Hands down, the best line of all comes from dental hygienist Anne Nugent Guignon, writing for RDH Magazine: “Basically, the majority of dental hygienists are like slow motion train wrecks; their bodies are ready to derail without much provocation.”

It’s not exactly being shot in the line of duty, but the end result – pain, surgeries, time out of work, even disability – is a very real possibility for many dental professionals. Rather than a one-time incident, most injuries for dental professionals revolve around cumulative trauma.

Additionally, slow moving train wrecks are rarely smiling like the woman in the stock photo we used in this article.

A real pain in the neck (and hands)

Guignon focuses on what she calls the “heads/hands/heinie concept,” to which dental hygienists should pay the most attention:

  1. The position of your head
  2. The stress you’re putting on your hands
  3. Your core posture while seated (the position of your heinie relative to the rest of your body and the floor)

Improper head position = neck pain, the most common injury

Plenty of dental hygienists (apparently two-thirds) suffer pain in the neck. Other related problem areas are the shoulders, arms and back. Guignon suggests:

  • Use a magnification system (so you aren’t craning your neck)
  • Don’t position the patient too high in a “desperate attempt to see”
  • Otherwise do your best to position yourself in a neutral body posture so your forearms are parallel to the floor

Polishing and other tool work = hand pain, another common injury

In addition to neck pain, repetitive stress on the hands also leads to injury. Here, Guignon suggests:

  • Using cordless handpieces, if possible, that are lightweight and designed such that your wrist can remain straight as you work
  • Using the right size and shape of gloves for your hands (gloves really aren’t one-size-fits-all), that are thin and allow the thumb to remain in a neutral position
  • Being careful to avoid putting too much pressure on the hands when scaling and polishing

Neglecting ergonomics = back pain, a third common injury

Finally, the position of your heinie is important, too. Many dental professionals report pain or discomfort in their lower backs, often due to their sitting position. Guignon suggests using sit/stand arrangements, with saddles ergonomically fit to your height.

Other injuries include musculoskeletal disorders

Pain and discomfort are rarely confined to just one area of the body, especially when the dental professional is suffering from cumulative trauma. They could feel pain not only in the neck and hands, but also in the elbows, hips, forearms, ankles, and other areas – because of injury to the joints, ligaments, tendons, and the body’s other support structures.

Musculoskeletal disorders – all too common in the dentistry profession – are often caused by repetitive strain and improper posture. In other words, pay attention to your head, your hands, and your heinie.

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