Musculoskeletal Disorders Among Dental Hygienists and Students of Dental Hygiene
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) are a significant burden for dental professionals. It is estimated that between 64-93% of dental hygienists and dentists experience MSD associated with their profession. Carpal tunnel syndrome is reportedly ten times more prevalent in the dental profession than in the U.S. workforce. The most common area affected by MSD in dental professionals is in the neck followed by hand and wrist, shoulder, and arms. In a recent study published in May 2020 in the International Journal of Dental Hygiene, the authors reported on the prevalence of musculoskeletal complaints among dental hygienists and dental hygiene students.1
Other previously published studies have determined that dental hygienists are more likely to experience neck, shoulder, and hand-wrist pain than other dental professionals. Though there is a plethora of studies documenting MSD among dental professionals, there are very few studies that focus on MSD complaints among dental hygiene students, though MSDs begin in the clinical years.
This study was comprised of 205 women, that included experienced dental hygienists, dental hygiene students, and a control group. The study determined that 89% of experienced dental hygienists and 88% of dental hygiene students complained of having MSD in at least one area of the body in the previous year. This was reported by dental hygiene students after only 4 months of clinical practice. The hygienists in this study reported the areas of most pain were neck (67%), shoulder (57%), and lower back (66%).
Interestingly, the type of instrument used was associated with the area of pain. Hygienists that hand scale reported neck pain, while those that utilized the ultrasonic scaler reported shoulder pain. Lower back pain was associated with the sitting position. In a previous study using a pressure mat determined the largest deviation for the ideal pelvic posture was when the clinician was in the 8 o’clock position. The position with the most ideal pelvic posture was the 12 o’clock position.
No significant differences were found between experienced hygienists and hygiene students in terms of the number of body parts affected by MSD and pain intensity. Limitations noted by the author include small sample size and self-reporting questionnaires.
The authors conclude by stating, “The present study documented high rates of MSD reports among experienced hygienists and dental hygiene students. These findings suggest that dental hygienists and students are at high risk of developing MSD”. The authors go on to call for “interventions prior to initiation of field work” to reduce the incidence of MSD among dental hygienists.
If you experience MSD where is the most severe pain? Did you start having pain and discomfort while a dental hygiene student? Do you feel like you were well educated on proper ergonomics? Do you think earlier intervention for MSD, such as physical therapy and massage therapy would have reduced the likelihood of experiencing MSD?
- Netanely S, Luria S, Langer D. Musculoskeletal disorders among dental hygienist and students of dental hygiene. Int J Dent Hyg. 2020;18(2):210-216. doi:10.1111/idh.12428