One of the most important components of being a great clinician is You. After 30yrs of working as a dental hygienist, I have seen and felt the effects this career can have on the body. There is plenty of literature out there that will confirm the high stats for musculoskeletal disorders, repetitive stress injuries, pain and discomfort within the dental profession.
As a health and safety advisor it is my job now to help eliminate or minimize, as far as is practicably possible, workplace risks of injury or illness. I thought it was a good opportunity to look at some of the common mistakes that can increase fatigue, cause lost productivity with pain or injury, and in the worst-case effect the longevity of your career.
There is a high incidence of hand and wrist complaints, especially with dental hygienists. They tend to be chronic long-term issues that start with a little niggle we just put up with, until the damage can’t be ignored anymore. When we put excessive demands on any part of the body and don’t let it rest, heal and recuperate adequately, the damage continues accumulating until that part becomes disabled. Let me be clear here, the damage that can be caused, is not confined to the arm and hand area. This is simply, one of the most common areas of injury, for dental Hygienists so is a good place to start. The effects on the lower arm and hands of dental Hygienists is a major problem, the Dental Research Journal (Jan-Mar 2012) points to the incidence of carpal tunnel syndrome in dentists not being very high, about 5%, compare that to the 56% of dental hygienists who complain of some symptoms.
What causes these injuries is the cumulative trauma of the tendons, as they slide backwards and forwards through their sheaths, they create friction. If you have enough friction it can create wear and tear, as my Phsysiotherapist explained it’s like a frayed rope, causing inflammation and pain.
Due to the swelling of the tendons or sheaths, you begin to notice some pain and tenderness, these are your warning signs that something isn’t working as well as it should be. It’s the indicator that you need to take a look at what area is affected and how you can manage the risk better? Can the cause be eliminated, if that isn’t possible how can you minimise the damage?
Improved technique – avoid aggressive or continues grip/pinch, palm-down position during grip, awkward finger rest position.
Better designed or more ergonomic tools or equipment – watch out for vibration, non-neutral tool size, or
Improving the structure of your workload