Science + Tech

The flip side: learning to function with your non-dominant hand

A dentist’s livelihood depends on his or her hands, especially whichever hand we consider dominant.

Coming to dental school and learning the clinical aspects of dentistry showed how reliant we are on our hands, and it is not always as easy as lifting a coffee mug or emphasizing a point during a conversation.  We learn about ergonomics and how sitting straight and using the right hand motions can reduce the risk of body injury. This is valuable, but it overlooks an important factor of our work that can affect our health. Certain muscles, like the flexor carpi radialis and flexor carpi ulnaris, are in danger of being overused from our daily work. Holding a handpiece or retracting with a mirror for long hours every day can be challenging and even damaging to our bodies.

According to a 1997 study by Mackinnon and Novak published in the Journal of Hand Surgery, repetitive finger movements can lead to joint damage later on. In 2006, Solovieva, et al., published an article in the Journal of Dental Research. Their research found that “monotonous work tasks” in a dental office were correlated with osteoarthritis of the fingers among middle-aged female dentists.  This data points to a real concern for dentists and one that is difficult to avoid given the nature of our work.

Ambidexterity is the ability to use both hands equally well. This concept can change the path of our career if applied correctly. The goal of using both hands is not necessarily to use a handpiece with our non-dominant hand, even though you could learn to do that. The point is to utilize the non-dominant hand in repetitive daily activities . Imagine pulling the dog leash and carrying those heavy bags with your non-dominant hand. Try switching to brush your teeth every once in awhile. Train yourself to reach for a pencil, unlock doors or use the space bar on your laptop with your other hand. These small changes could help balance the work across both hands and reduce strain where you move the most.

Using this technique can not only save our hands from diseases like osteoarthritis or a higher risk of trauma, but it can also improve the longevity of our career and the health care we can provide for our community.

~ Moh Yakubi, Arizona ’18

Moh Yakubi

Moh Yakubi is a third year dental student at ATSU-Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health. He is passionate about community health care and providing free dental services. Outside school he loves to sing, write music, play soccer and enjoy quality time with his beloved family and friends.

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  1. Zulema says:

    Thank you for this information! I’ll share it and apply these suggestions.

  2. Elizabeth Shapiro says:

    Great article! I practiced with a dentist who had a stroke at age 45 that affected his dominant hand. He relearned dentistry using his non-dominant hand, and was able to continue practicing for 20+ more years–and was an excellent practitioner!

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