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Ergonomics & Dentistry

Posted on 16th Feb 2016 @ 7:18 PM

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Practicing the art of dentistry requires a high degree of concentration and precision. But awkward postures, repetitious hand movements, and persistent vibration to the hand and wrist from a highspeed handpiece can make practitioners vulnerable to musculoskeletal disorders. Consider that many dentists often find themselves in a static, uncomfortable position when treating patients. This sustained position can lead to pain, injury, or, in severe cases of musculoskeletal disorders, disability or early retirement. 

What are some of the most common ergonomic issues/risks that dentists face in clinical practice?

  • Poor working postures and positions.
  • Sustained muscular contractions during long procedures that can lead to decreased blood flow to tissues, muscle spasms and increased stress on pain- producing structures.
  • Significant repetitive movements with forceful exertions during many procedures. 
  • Visual fatigue due to poor visualization, inadequate lighting of the oral cavity or lack of magnification.
  • Poorly working equipment or lack of adjustable equipment.
  • Stressed patients1: practitioners often share the stress felt by patients. 

What types of dental office equipment might help prevent a practicing dentist’s aches and pains? 

Equipment that is ergonomically designed and allows the practitioner to lessen the stresses of the practice on their bodies. A good operator stool with an adjustable seat pan, back rest and contoured seating is one option for some. A saddle stool may be a better option for others, while a ball chair or dynamic seat may be the best option for others. Supporting the arms with armrests allows you to unload the stress on the upper body. Having a patient chair that allows easy access to the oral cavity allows for more balanced working posture could be helpful. An example would be a patient chair with a thin, narrow tapered back that allows the dentist to sit in a neutral balanced position with both arms relaxed at the sides. This allows for a neutrally balanced spine with relaxed upper extremities while working. Neutrally balanced means head over the shoulders, shoulders over the hips and shoulders relaxed at one’s sides. Proper magnification and lighting are also assets to the benefit of the practitioner.

Along with an adjustable chair, loupes and headlamps are some of the best investments a dentist can make to prevent neck problems from developing because they allow for more neutral head and neck postures. Hand instruments should be comfortable, light, and as well-balanced as possible. In other words, when you hold an instrument in your hand you should not feel any muscle tension or pulling. 

Your physical health is important to you as well as your practice and patients, so having the right posture supportive tools are necessary. But you don’t need to change every item in office all at once; stages might be best. A Simple Solution in this area could be the change your stool. It’s one item, but it has the greatest impact on your health. 

For more assistance or information re ergonomics, give us a call.