COLTENE’s Mark Allen: The physical challenges of dentistry
Dentistry can be mentally demanding, but the significant physical challenges that come with the profession can impact on both love for the job and the ability to do it. Research has shown that musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) are the most common source of early ill-health retirement, more common than mental health issues. In one study, over half of GDPs who left the profession early cited MSDs as the reason.
Lower back pain is particularly prevalent. The statistics for MSDs and dentistry are concerning; a 2020 study among dentists and dental students found that rates were very high, much higher than the general population, and that the pain was mostly felt in the neck and shoulder areas, as well as in the lower back .
Female dental professionals reported an even higher MSD prevalence, despite being younger and working fewer hours per week than their male counterparts.
Any kind of MSD or injury – including a range of orthopaedic disorders from tendonitis to carpal tunnel syndrome – can be distressing and over-the-counter anti-inflammatories such as ibruprofen can be taken to relieve discomfort, but these medications (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs) are not for everyone and should not be taken for long periods of time.
One of the top self-help tips is to stay as active as possible. After a hard day in practice, exercise is often the last thing you feel like doing, but even regular walking is cardiovascular and can prevent as well as improve the pain from MSDs. Studies have concluded resistance training using free weights is particularly good at helping people manage lower back pain .
Some MSDs are related to working posture. Sitting, or standing incorrectly will put too much pressure on the muscles, making them work extra-hard. One example is “hunching” over a patient, with your shoulders up and tensed, rather than down and relaxed. Repeatedly experiencing poor posture will cause even further damage, so taking care of your posture now is important, to protect your future physical and mental wellbeing.
Ideally correct posture requires a well-designed practice, with plenty of space to move freely and sit and stand correctly, plus a high-quality well-designed dental chair. Invest in equipment that helps prevent excessive and unnecessary fatigue and exertion, such as digital imaging systems. Four-handed working will also assist “motion economy”  which is not only good for reducing physical stresses and strains, but it can also increase productivity by streamlining the treatment process.
MSDs can affect productivity, lead to days off work, or even trigger early retirement. Physical health should be treated as seriously as mental health in the practice. Exercise is both preventative and good for pain relief, especially weight-bearing resistance training. Also take care to ensure everything in the work environment optimises ergonomics, so you can continue to work in comfort and enjoy a pain-free life, for years to come.
Mark Allen is the General Manager at COLTENE. He adds: “For endodontists, one option is the CanalPro™ Jeni, from COLTENE, an all-in-one endometer and apex locator that allows autonomous navigation in the endo canal. Hi-tech yet easy to use, it gives consistent, reliable outcomes, with a wireless foot pedal for comfort while aiding four-handed working and motion economy, as well as decreasing clutter.”
1] Ohlendorf D, Naser A, Haas Y, Haenel J, Fraeulin L, Holzgreve F, Erbe C, Betz W, Wanke EM, Brueggmann D, Nienhaus A, Groneberg DA. Prevalence of Musculoskeletal Disorders among Dentists and Dental Students in Germany. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Nov 24;17 (23):8740. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17238740. PMID: 33255491; PMCID: PMC7727829.
2] Welch N, Moran K, Antony J, et al. The effects of a free-weight-based resistance training intervention on pain, squat biomechanics and MRI-defined lumbar fat infiltration and functional cross-sectional area in those with chronic low back. BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine 2015; 1:e000050. doi:10.1136/bmjsem-2015-000050
3] Gentil P, Soares SR, Pereira MC, da Cunha RR, Martorelli SS, Martorelli AS, Bottaro M.