Clinical Insights: Preventing Pain in Dentistry
Tips to help dental hygienists create a healthier work life.
Dental professionals are at high risk of experiencing pain and discomfort due to the nature of their work. From hunching over patients for hours to holding awkward positions, the physical demands of dentistry can take a toll on the body.¹ However, with the right approach and tools, it’s possible to prevent pain and promote a healthier work life.
As a practicing dental hygienist of 12 years, I experienced multiple areas of pain throughout my career. These injuries led me to explore different modalities, such as therapeutic yoga and proper ergonomics, to reduce pain and the risk of disability and early retirement. Now I’m passionate about helping dental professionals find a holistic, individualized approach to pain prevention and management, thus supporting career longevity.
Stretching and Strengthening
Stretching and strengthening exercises are essential for any dental professional who wants to prevent pain. Regular stretching can help reduce tension in muscles, increase blood flow, and improve flexibility.² While many exercises can be done chairside, dental professionals should consider incorporating yoga or pilates into their routine outside of work.
Strengthening exercises, on the other hand, can help improve stability and posture, which is a key element to good ergonomics. Finding a balanced approach to these exercises can help prevent, reduce, and alleviate the risk of injury and pain. With both stretching and strengthening, it’s important to find a qualified professional that understands the physical demands of dentistry.
Ergonomics and Posture
Ergonomics is crucial when it comes to preventing pain in dentistry. Ergonomics is the study of how people interact with their environment, and it focuses on designing tools, equipment, and workspaces that promote health and well-being.³ Proper posture, a key element of ergonomics, involves maintaining the correct alignment of the body while standing or sitting.⁴ The neutral position involves keeping the head, neck, and back in proper alignment with shoulders relaxed and arms at the sides. The feet should be flat on the ground, and the hips should be higher than the knees.
In addition, practitioners should focus on the positioning of their patients, while also ensuring their workspace is set up properly for them. A correct workspace means that the instruments, equipment, tools, and accessories are designed to reduce unnecessary movements and awkward positions. Practicing good ergonomics can improve productivity and efficiency for the clinician.
There are many ergonomic tools and equipment on the market that can reduce the physical strain of dentistry. Saddle stools are a great ergonomic tool designed to improve posture and reduce back pain, unlike traditional seating.⁵ A well-fitted saddle promotes a forward tilt of the pelvis, which keeps the spine in a neutral position. The seat of the saddle stool is designed to distribute weight evenly across the buttocks, reducing pressure points and improving blood flow. Clinicians should find a stool that is designed for the dental operatory and supports the individual practitioner.
Ergonomic Loupes are another example of ergonomic tools that can prevent pain in dentistry. Ergonomic Loupes allow the clinician to practice without looking down into the oral cavity, which reduces additional strain on the spine.⁶ LumaDent’s ErgoPrism Loupes are designed to fit comfortably on the head and provide magnification without causing neck strain or discomfort. These loupes also come with an LED light source, which minimizes the use of overhead lights and reduces eye strain.
Preventing pain and discomfort in dentistry requires a combination of stretching, strengthening, ergonomics, and ergonomic tools. By taking steps to prevent pain and discomfort, dental professionals can work comfortably and efficiently while providing the best possible care for their patients.
- Kumar M, Pai KM, Vineetha R. Occupation-related musculoskeletal disorders among dental professionals. Med Pharm Rep. 2020;93(4):405-409.
- Seguin-Fowler R, Graham M, Ward J, Eldridge G, Sriram U, Fine D. Feasibility of a yoga intervention to decrease pain in older women: a randomized controlled pilot study. BMC Geriatr. 2020;20:400.
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Ergonomics. Available at: osha.gov/ergonomics. Accessed March 9, 2022.
- Cramer H, Mehling WE, Saha FJ, Dobos G, Lauche R. Postural awareness and its relation to pain: validation of an innovative instrument measuring awareness of body posture in patients with chronic pain. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2018;19:109.
- Gouvêa GR, Vieira WA, Paranhos LR, Bernardino ÍM, Bulgareli JV, Pereira AC. Assessment of the ergonomic risk from saddle and conventional seats in dentistry: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS One. 2018;13:e0208900.
- Plessas A, Bernardes Delgado M. The role of ergonomic saddle seats and magnification loupes in the prevention of musculoskeletal disorders. A systematic review. Int J Dent Hyg. 2018;16:430–440.
From Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. April 2023; 21(4):26.