by Mudita Agrawal, University of Michigan (2016)

During the first year of dental school, we are taught the importance of patient and operator positioning. However, when we enter the simulation lab, it’s easy to adopt a mindset of learning the dental skills first and the ergonomics later. Soon enough, we feel more comfortable and confident doing those dental procedures in wrong positions. After a few years, these wrong positions start taking a toll on our neck and back muscles. A 2005 study by Dr. David has proven that 46-71% of the students  at dental school experienced neck, shoulder, and back pain with more than 70% reporting pain by their 3rd year.

When the head, neck, and back are tilted to one side while working, the muscles in use on one side become shorter and stronger and the other side becomes lengthened and weakened. The overall effect is muscle imbalance.  On top of that, the shortened muscles getting poorer blood supply. Unequal tension on the spine can cause pain, too, starting as infrequent back and neck pain and developing into chronic pain.  This ultimately can lead to a severe muskoloskeletal disorder which may require surgery or early retirement.

A sobering analogy shows that maintaining your head position in a full upper body lean or tilt of 30 degrees from the pelvis for 10 minutes requires muscular exertion equivalent to curling a 20-pound dumbbell 266 times or curling a 100-pound barbell 53 times!

So what do we do to prevent this chronic pain?  Weightlifting and resistance training can be great exercise with many physiologic benefits. Exercise and physical therapy should be part of every dentist’s routine.  Operator stool selection can help with right positioning as well. Good chair selection can promote healthier ergonomic operator positions.

As dental students, we must break habits that promote poor ergonomics.  With some focus and a mindset of future pain prevention, we can all develop good habits and have long, healthy, pain-free careers.

 

Citation link- http://jada.ada.org/article/S0002-8177(14)65544-6/abstract

 

DAVID W. RISING, BRADFORD C. BENNETT, KEVIN HURSH, OCTAVIA PLESH. Reports of body pain in a dental student population: JADA; Jan 2005; 136(1) ,81-86

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