Avoiding Injuries for Dental Students and Dentists
What kind of injuries might a Dentist be at risk from?
As a dental professional the big killers are from back and neck injuries. You could also cite needlestick or patient bites but we won’t get into those today!
These injuries can be multifactorial in origin. So in order to reduce your risk of long lasting problems, that could curtail your career in dentistry, you first of all need to identify your habits that put you at risk.
This guide is primarily for dentists, but may also be relevant to medical professionals who carry out surgery, or anyone who suffers from back or neck pain in a more general sense.
So what are the common risk factors for a dentist?
Not using loupes
Excessive phone and tablet use
Poor seat positioning
Poor use of indirect vision
Poor timekeeping can also be an exacerbating factor
So there are some of the main factors we are likely to encounter, but how do we prevent the injuries? And how do we recover if there’s already a problem? These are things every dentist needs to keep in mind.
What is a sedentary lifestyle?
A sedentary lifestyle is a way of day to day life that exists with little to no physical exercise and activity. As a dentist i know that we feel very busy when we have patients and it is tiring but this is still a sedentary type lifestyle!
This kind of lifestyle is becoming increasingly common and many people do little to no exercise when they get home from work
Why is it relevant to Dentists?
This one is fairly simple to explain, the less fit and flexible you are the more susceptible your body is to picking up injuries.
As we all know dentists are likely to contort their necks and backs in order to get the best possible position to finish off a crown prep for example, but this can be damaging in the long run especially if we are inflexible and unfit.
By keeping yourself in shape you reduce the likelihood of picking up injuries!
Non-Use of Dental Loupes
What are Dental Loupes?
Hopefully you already know the answer to this one but just in case you don't and are new to the world of dentistry, dental loupes are glasses with magnification elements which allow us to see more detail. This allows us to treat more precisely.
When treating patients some dentists and dental hygienists can look a little like this
The excessive arching of the back can lead to stress in the muscles inserting into your cranial base, which can feel like a strong headache!
When you transition into using loupes, by their very nature your head is forced into a more neutral position. So not only will the loupes improve your dental work by improving the level of detail you can see, they will also help improve your posture!
I personally have used these when i was a dental student, and they were a great investment at a reasonable price!
Historical poor posture
What are the features of poor posture?
If you suspect you have poor posture look over the next few points to see if any of these sound familiar to you;
- Rounding your shoulders forward,
- Abdominal enlargement (pot belly)
- Pain in the lower back (sacral) region
- Tilting of the head, which may be associated with use of smartphones predominantly on one side
These go hand in hand with a sedentary lifestyle, a number of these issues for example are seen in avid computer gamers.
There are a number of medical reasons which may also contribute to your condition, ranging from joint dysfunction to arthritic conditions. you should seek professional clinical advice for these conditions as management will vary.
What to do to correct postural issues?
To relieve postural issues can be more difficult and will require mindfulness and a change in your habits over a period of months, if purely down to non medical reasons, and more clinically-driven management, with varying results if medically related.
So you can try yoga, pilates and functional resistance training in order to safeguard yourself from injuries. Articles to come soon on these topics!
If you have tried any of these things let us know how you got on in the comments below this article!
Phone and Tablet Use
With the rise of smartphones has come the rise of a condition called text neck, or turtleneck position.
Current studies have shown that around 87% of teenagers in the USA and 79% teenagers in the UK use smartphones. Among adults this rises to 92% and 95% owning a smartphone in USA and Australia.
Forward flexion of the neck affects the spine directly, a 15 degree inclination puts a torque of 27lbs on the neck which rises to 60 lbs when inclined at 60 degrees. This causes pain and soreness commonly alongside stiffness in the neck.
Just by looking at the diagram above you can see how familiar this pose is for dentists when we are craning our necks into patients mouths to see inside!
You may also suffer from a radiating pain and muscular weakness. Less commonly you may see spinal degeneration disc compression, loss of lung capacity and early onset arthritic changes.
How do we manage text neck?
Initially you should look at your use of smart devices;
- Take breaks
- Avoid prolonged poses
- Reduce the angle of inclination
- Reduce repetitive movements
- Use a lighter device
Long story short if you don't absolutely need to be on your device, put it away. Replace these hours of your day with some of the following;
- Chin tuck exercises
- Ice and heat packs
- Keep the neck moving (see images for exercises)
- Get a massage
A leading physiotherapist from Australia recently recommended that i apply the golden thread principle and to pre-emptively start a pilates routine alongside my current exercise programme. She also advised me to get a specialised pilates routine just for dentists created in order to prevent injuries properly!
Poor seat positioning
This one is a big one for young dentists. We are still inexperienced and don’t have the best positioning down to a tee just yet. Spend a bit of time to get your seat at the right height and programme your chair to drop to the best position for you.
It’s better that your patient is in a position that is comfortable to you so that you are able to carry out the best possible treatment.
Non Use of Indirect Vision
What is indirect vision?
Indirect vision is the skill of using your dental mirror to visualise the areas of the patient's mouth that are obscured such as the posterior surfaces of upper anterior teeth.
This is a fundamental skill that you should be well on the way to mastering after a couple of years practice, if you aren't using indirect vision at the moment, start to do so.
This one is a little indirect and down to personality. When some dentists get behind on time they tend to try and speed up and this can lead to a loss of body form and posture, which can exacerbate or cause injuries.
This will improve with experience, but you should;
- Ensure you have good notes structure that you can efficiently complete so that you are cotemporaneous and will not set you back in time.
- Don’t overbook yourself with multiple treatment sessions back to back, know your limits as a dentist.
- When you first start out give yourself the benefit of extra time to complete things if you are inexperienced
- You may be able to block off small slots as catch up time
- try and work with the same nurse if possible as this will allow you to build a good working relationship and a strong rhythm. Always make sure you keep your dental nurse or assistant onside (Check this mug out! what a perfect gift for your perfect nurse!)