Take ergonomic action – Pete Higson

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  Posted by: Dental Design      3rd November 2018

In the dental setting, clinicians are exposed to a number of different occupational risks that can affect daily practice, health and quality of life. Ergonomic hazards can be particularly dangerous for dentists, as they can lead to debilitating musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

Unfortunately, MSDs are extremely common, with research showing that they affect as many as 54% to 93% of dental professionals to some degree.[i]In some instances, prevalence has been found to be as high as 97%.[ii]Whatever the exact statistic, I think we can all agree that the chance of developing an MSD is a very real prospect when working in dentistry, and is therefore a risk not to be taken lightly.

Equally, any mild to severe pain or discomfort, decreased range of motion, grip strength or loss of muscle function should not be ignored, as the condition could worsen if left untreated. MSDs can affect nerves, tendons, muscles and other supporting structures such as inter-vertebral discs in various parts of the body, most commonly the back, neck, shoulders, knees, hips, hands and wrists.

In the short-term, MSDs can lead to sickness and time off work if the physical pain impedes a dentist’s ability to be able to perform their daily tasks correctly and to a high standard. This, in turn, can result in delays and cancelled appointments, which can be very frustrating for both the patient and the practice. As for the long-term affects of living with an MSD, there can be no doubt that prolonged pain and/or discomfort would be extremely grating, not only physically but psychologically too. Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that there is an association between an MSD diagnosis and poor quality of life and mental distress.[iii]From a physical perspective, there is the possibility of prolonged pain or injury leading to early retirement.[iv]

As such, dentists should do all they can to minimise the chances of developing an MSD; beginning with learning common ergonomic hazards and risk factors such as poor posture, twisting, turning and reaching, and high task repetition. Indeed, simply by recognising the difference between correct and incorrect ergonomic practices and having an awareness of preventive actions, dentists have a much better chance of preventing the development or worsening of an MSD. 

Having said that, education can only help dental professionals so much, because if the appropriate tools and equipment aren’t available within the practice then it won’t be possible for the clinical team to work ergonomically or safely. Luckily, it is not outside the realm of possibility for practices to be able to improve conditions within the surgery, as there are a number of efficient solutions that could be introduced. It could be something small such as investing in a comfortable adjustable stool or chair with lumbar, thoracic and arm support to promote proper posture, or it may mean replacing larger pieces of equipment for more ergonomically designed alternatives.

Dental cabinets in particular can make a huge difference to posture and comfort if they are ergonomically designed, as they prevent any unnecessary bending down or twisting and turning and facilitate a more efficient workflow. Though of course, in order to feel the full benefit, the layout must also be designed to minimise bad practice and discomfort, and the cabinets should fit with the shape and size of the surgery.

Naturally, this can be difficult to judge, not to mention that there are other considerations such as HTM 01-05 and CQC compliance, conforming to building regulations and so on, that can confuse matters. It is for those reasons that recruiting the services of a specialist company with experience in dental practice design and a comprehensive knowledge of equipment is always advisable.

One such company that can help to ergonomically transform a practice is RPA Dental. Boasting a highly experienced team of project managers, technicians and engineers, RPA Dental is well placed to help practices achieve optimal workflow and help them choose suitably designed equipment, such as the all-important dental cabinets. For best results, RPA Dental works in partnership with some of the leading brands from around the globe, including the Italian dental cabinet manufacturer, Tavom.

Altogether, there’s a lot to think about when it comes to ergonomics and the possible risks, but by investing in suitable equipment and improving workflow, it is possible to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal disorders.


RPA Dental Equipment Ltd.

Visit us at www.rpadental.net

London and Manchester Sales and Service Centres call 08000 933 975


[i]De Sio S, Traversini V, Colasanti V, Buomprisco G, Perri R, Mormone F, La Torre G, Guerra F. Ergonomic risk and preventive measures of musculoskeletal disorders in the dentistry environment: an umbrella review. Peer J. 2018 Jan 15;6:e4154. doi: 10.7717/peerj.4154. eCollection 2018. Accessed online June

2018 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29362689

[ii]Hegde S, Arsha D, Kavya S. Prevalence of Musculoskeletal Disorders among Dental Professionals – A Questionnaire Study. Indian Journal of Public Health Research and Development. 2018; 9 (3): 33-37. Accessed online June 2018 at http://www.indianjournals.com/ijor.aspx?target=ijor:ijphrd&volume=9&issue=3&article=007

[iii]Antonopoulou MD, Alegakis AK, Hadjipavlou AG, Lionis CD. Studying the association between musculoskeletal disorders, quality of life and mental health. A primary care pilot study in rural Crete, Greece. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2009; 10: 143. Accessed online June 2018 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2785760/

[iv]Brown J, Burke F J, Macdonald E B, Gilmour H, Hill K B, Morris A J, White D A, Muirhead E K, Murray K. Dental Practitioners and ill health retirement: causes, outcomes and re-employment. Br Dent J 2010; 209: E7. Accessed online June 2018 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20829836

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