Repetitive Stress Injuries and Dentistry

One profession with a large occurrence of repetitive stress injuries (RSI) is dentistry.  This is due to the fine motor skills required to perform the tasks necessary for the job.  This situation can occur for dentists and dental hygienists as they are constantly performing repetitive tasks on their patients.


pain in top of wrist


Not only the repetitive wrist and hand movements, but the awkward body positioning required to perform the tasks can also exacerbate this problem.  However, there are some preventative measures that dental career professional can take to alleviate these issues.


Many experts agree that the key to reducing stress in the work environment includes

·         avoiding as much as possible the repetitive tasks, award body positioning, and hand movements

·         performing stretching exercises at regular times

·         taking frequent breaks


There are also certain equipment and procedure issues that also need to be addressed.  Studies have found that the prolonged use of ambidextrous latex examination gloves, which were originally developed for brief examinations, can exert extra pressure against the thumb when the hand is in a working position.  This fatigues the thumb muscles and constricts the blood supply.  Therefore, it is more appropriate for dental personnel who wear latex gloves for long periods to use right and left-handed gloves.


Dental tool design can also play a factor in the avoidance of repetitive injuries and other cumulative trauma disorders in dental care. Of the three general types of handpieces, a straight-nose cone handpiece produces the most strain on the wrist and produces the greatest vibration to the joints while Autoclavable contra-angle handpieces and prophy-angle handpieces are more ergonomically designed and therefore results in less pressure on the wrist and fingers. 


Dental hygiene procedures can also result in carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis. Scientific research has found that dental hygienists who spend a large percentage of their time doing scaling and root planning are more likely to develop these types of injuries.


Dental assistants can also exhibit repetitive stress symptoms as they are also required many times to assume awkward body positions and are frequently moving system cords and hoses which exert continuous pressure on the shoulders, arms, wrists and fingers. In order to reduce the likelihood of this occurring, good body mechanics, correct seating and ergonomic design of the office equipment can reduce this problem.


Article written by George WIlliams for Repetitve Injuries.

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