By: Savannah Craig
When I started dental school we had one lecture on ergonomics and that was it.
I was still trying to figure out where to fulcrum to get my bur on the tooth I was working on. I didn’t have time to think about where my knees were positioned or how the focal distance of my loupes was set.
I experienced a lot of back and neck pain throughout dental school.
The Importance of Physical Fitness and Teamwork as a Dentist
The statistics regarding back pain in dentists made it seem like the pain was just a part of the profession and it was only a matter of time before a musculoskeletal injury would end my career.
Thankfully, during my first week of residency, my perspective changed.
Lifting Weights to Strengthen Your Back and Core
My program director discussed with us the importance of lifting weights to strengthen our back and core to allow us to have a long and successful career and this changed my relationship with exercise and dentistry.
Prior to this discussion, I had been focusing on stretching and yoga to help prevent my back and neck pain. While both of these are still important parts of maintaining my health, there is more that I can do.
For the past month, I have been exercising and lifting weights two times a week and going through a few neck and back stretches daily before bed.
A simple routine of ‘cat/cow’ and ‘child’s pose’ stretches takes around 3-5 minutes. Thankfully I have not experienced any back or neck pain after a long day of work and I have to attribute it to focusing on strengthening my back and neck muscles.
Working with a Well Trained Dental Assistant
The other difference between dental school and how I am practicing dentistry now is having a well-trained dental assistant.
Working with an assistant can make all the difference for back and neck pain because they can help you to maintain your ergonomics while working.
Your assistant can hand you instruments to prevent you from reaching around the operatory. They can help to dry your mirror and retract the cheek so that you can use indirect vision instead of straining your neck.
Often, I will ask my assistant to keep an eye on my positioning and remind me to maintain proper ergonomics while I am working. I find it so helpful to have an assistant who can recognize I am in an awkward position and offer to readjust the patient’s chair to help me.
These small reminders and acts of teamwork have made all the difference for my back and neck.
Care for Your Body as a Dentist to Have a Long Healthy Career
Dentistry is a physically demanding job and it is critically important that we learn to protect our bodies from injury.
You can only practice dentistry as long as your body will allow you, so you must take steps to strengthen your muscles, maintain your ergonomics, and design your operatory in a way that protects your neck, back, and wrists.
With more emphasis on the physical demands of the job, it is my hope that we can limit the number of dentists who are forced into retirement due to musculoskeletal injuries.
Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom