We all dream of a prosperous career and a successful dental practice. One potential hurdle to achieving your dreams could simply be your own body. Dentistry as a profession is prone to repetitive physical activity, which can lead to repetitive strain injuries. Reports have shown that dentists lose millions of dollars every year from cancelling appointments because of musculoskeletal pain. Chronic musculoskeletal pain is also one of the leading causes for dentists to retire prematurely. Dentists have reported increased prevalence rates of chronic neck pain, shoulder pain, carpal tunnel syndrome and back pain. It is vital to avoid these problems from the beginning of our careers to avoid its ill effects later. As dental students, we concentrate on improving on our clinical work. Seldom do we concentrate on our work posture. So how can we do it?
1.Be aware of your posture
As a dental student, by being aware of your posture in the present, you are investing in your future health as a dental professional. Maintaining a proper posture helps you prevent some of the damaging effects on your muscles. Avoid slouching, which strains your muscles and ligaments. Keep your legs perpendicular to the floor with feet flat. Remember, prevention is always better than a cure, especially when it comes work-related injuries.
2.Relax and stretch
Dental procedures can make you concentrate on work for prolonged periods of time. Remember to take short breaks to rest your muscles and stretch in between patients or clinical procedures. Avoid excessive pinching of instruments and do what you can to reduce repetitive movements with some task variation. Prolonged muscle tension in an awkward position is a trigger for repetitive strain injuries.
Dentistry has come a long way in utilizing ergonomic technology. Dental students must practice using these technologies from the first day you start preparing mannequin teeth in your pre-clinical laboratories. New-generation ergonomic dentist chairs are designed to cradle the body and thus avoid activating pressure points. Chairs are also designed in such a way so they provide adequate hand and lumbar support. Magnification loupes are indispensable to help you maintain good body posture. They reduce eye strain as well as minimize upper-body muscle fatigue. Making use of these ergonomic technologies efficiently is the smartest move you can make towards your future health.
4.Practice yoga and exercise regularly
Keeping your body fit and muscles toned is an integral health investment. Dentists are prone to developing increasingly tense shoulder and neck muscles. Exercises specifically targeting these weak spots can help. Consider getting a deep tissue massage to rejuvenate your body and mind. Practicing yoga, deep breathing exercises or meditation are also very effective in alleviating body stress and muscle fatigue.
Health is like money. We never know its true value until we lose it. Preventing repetitive strain injuries not only improves your health, it also makes you a more productive and efficient dentist. Protecting your body against these work-related injuries is vital for your future as a bright and aspiring dental student. After all, your body is the only place you have to live in!
~ Madhumietha Arumugam, Pennsylvania ’19