Whether you’re a dentist, dental hygienist or assistant, you work in a fabulous profession! Dental professionals take care of people for a living, our industry is relatively recession-proof and the dental field enjoys a well-deserved prestige. While clinical practice can be very rewarding, it can also take a physical toll on our bodies with the potential to negatively affect both our professional and personal lives. That was certainly what happened to me.
I obtained my dental hygiene diploma from St. Clair college and began a 20-year clinical career. After the first 10 years, I started getting chronic back, shoulder and neck pain. I was working full time, but because of chronic pain, I had to cut back hours to the point where I was working only two days per week. Despite spending a small fortune on physiotherapy, chiropractors and massage therapy, I couldn’t get rid of the chronic pain. Then things got worse.
My first day at a new clinic, I just couldn’t get comfortable. The ergonomics in the small operatory were terrible, and the chair position was different from what I had grown accustomed to. That night, I woke up at 3:00 am with severe muscle pain. After a visit to the emerge, I spent three months bedridden, taking a variety of pain medications. When I realized I couldn’t go back into clinical practice, it was emotionally devastating. I was in my 40s, being a dental hygienist was the only career I had ever had—it was part of my identity.
After a dark period, I was able to develop new skills, retrain and get back on my feet. However, looking back, there are things I could have managed differently that may have allowed me to continue in clinical practice. Because I cannot go back and give my younger self this advice, I’m giving it to you, in hopes you can avoid long-term musculoskeletal problems:
6 Tips to Help Prevent Long-Term Injury
- Ensure the chair/stool allows for proper body positioning.
- Use magnifying loupes when needed to avoid leaning forward.
- Take frequent breaks to stand, change position and stretch.
- Establish a routine of movements, stretches or exercises and do it between patients, even if it’s only 60 – 90 seconds.
- Exercise regularly outside of the office to keep your muscles strong, long and healthy.
- Listen to your body! Don’t ignore aches and pains.
About the Author
Throughout her 20+ year career in oral healthcare, Jaime has worked in various clinical and educational capacities, including two decades of practice in dental hygiene. In her current role as Manager, Regulatory Compliance at dentalcorp, she supports practice teams in all aspects of compliance. She has a passion for infection prevention and control regulations and assisting her clients in providing safe, quality patient care.