Ergonomics in Dentistry

By Diane Grzela

Ergonomics are too briefly discussed in Dental Assisting programs.  Even though Modern Dental Assisting (MDA) – 11th Edition does reserve a chapter for Ergonomics (Chapter 25; pp387-394), it is only briefly broached.  Dental Assisting – A Comprehensive Approach – Fourth Edition only reserved 3 pages (pp362-364) within Chapter 17 – Introduction to the Dental Office and Basic Chairside Assisting.  Both textbooks discuss the proper positioning in the dental chair, and only MDA presents a few muscle-strengthening exercises. An article in PubMed states that only half of the dental participants felt they had received adequate training on injury prevention.

According to a 2020 study (Ohlendorf et al. Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology (2020) 15:22, dental professionals in every specialty in dentistry are affected by musculoskeletal disorders (MSD).

Having been in the dental profession, beginning as a dental assistant for 4 years, and later becoming a dental hygienist for the past 29 years, I suffered from musculoskeletal disorder (MSD).  I began feeling symptoms 15 years ago and was referred to a neurologist, who strongly recommended I stop working chairside.  This is when I began teaching and only returned to chairside, part-time, three years ago.  In addition to seeing my neurologist every 3 months for treatments, I have been treated by massage therapists, chiropractors, osteopaths, and physiotherapists.

The prevention and treatment of MSD are essential to a long career in dentistry.  It is not a luxury to regularly see a massage therapist, and one is never too young to do so.

Open communication with your employer is encouraged to ensure that the proper equipment and supplies are provided, and a timely sharing of MSD symptoms is essential to benefit patients and the entire team.

Frequent breaks and exercise are essential in preventing MSD.  An article in JADA (2014) recommends 20–30-minute aerobic exercises 3-4 times per week, stretching exercises 2-3 times per day for 15-30 seconds at a time, and strengthening exercises 2-3 times per day for 8-10 repetitions.  Another article states that incorporating yoga into a daily routine is proven to be very beneficial.

Here is an exercise you can try:

ndaeb ergonomics

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Dimensions of Dental Hygiene state:

“Oral health professionals should take continuing education courses on biomechanical and psychosocial risk factors, as well as interventions to reduce the risk for MSDs in order to increase career longevity and satisfaction.”



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