July 12, 2021
by Jennifer Hawley
Tech neck, a layman’s term for the onset of muscular pain and disorders stemming from modern smart device and computer usage, is a big problem for dental professionals. An important study published by the Journal of Education and Health Promotion found that 69 percent of dental students suffered from significant pain, with clinicians in endodontics and pedodontics particularly badly affected. Unsurprisingly, the study found issues of posture and device use at the core of the issues, and highlighted the worrying impact; 23 percent of respondents experienced hand pain as a result, which could have a huge impact on clinical performance. Anticipating these issues, and addressing them, is an important part of self-care that will ultimately benefit the patient.
A glance at medical studies concerning neck pain shows the extent of the issue. A 2021 study published by the Journal of Public Health found that 46.9 percent of people had pain in their neck, shoulders, and arms, in relation to their use of digital devices. For dentists, who will quite often spend time hunched over patients or straining to examine fine details, this risk is enhanced. In the short-term, however, there are helpful exercises to push back against the encroachment of neck pain, and they can become part of your daily routines.
Dentists that practice what they preach will brush several times per day and for at least two minutes per session. This is an ideal time to undertake chin-tucks, a simple technique that involves pushing the chin back until the neck forms a straight line with the spine. A set of 10, held for 10 seconds, can do a lot of work to combat low-level neck pain from every day work. In the long term, posture adjustment is a requirement.
The very setup of your surgery is crucial in maintaining your health and the level of care you can provide. An in-depth information pack on how to set up the clinic has been provided by Nature journals for a few years now, and establishes important principles. Key among these is a neutral position; dentists and technicians should work in a way that allows minimal extension of limbs and stretching of key muscle groups. This can be difficult to consider when working – with particularly difficult tasks, the temptation is to move around in whatever way is necessary to get the job done. Keeping vigilance over a neutral position, and minimizing leaning and twisting, is important. Always look to bring your entire body closer to the patient before leaning or twisting to get in closer.
Another measure that Nature recommends is specialized equipment, and the truth is that much of the equipment used in the surgery can be deployed to help with proper posture. A good quality operating stool is a must-have, and then other bits of kit, like a magnifying loupe or glass, can help to improve visibility and minimize the need for bending actions to get closer to the source of an issue.
Increasing numbers of professionals will have issues stemming either from inadequate training environments or years spent without the full knowledge of how ergonomics can help to prevent injury. Seeing a physician at the soonest opportunity is a key step; this can help to reduce the impact of any potential injuries, and ensure that you are able to provide the best level of care possible for your patients. You can also take long-term preventative action in your day-to-day life. Exercising, having good smartphone habits, and not sitting for long periods, can help to build physical resilience. It will also help you to maintain a good general level of flexibility and low levels of muscle pain, meaning that any job-specific injuries you do experience are easily identified as to their provenance.
Taking these steps early and often will help you to feel healthy both at home and at work. The clamor to do a good job can lead to dentists getting into positions that might not feel like they’re creating strain but, when repeated over time, will cause problems. Combating this will benefit your health – and your client’s.
About the Author
Jennifer Hawley is an occupational health therapist turned freelance writer. She has a passion for digital and health related topics and loves exploring and commenting upon the latest research. When not working, she loves to visit family in Europe, enjoys horse riding with her children and reading as much as possible.