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Ergonomics in Dentistry: What You Need to Know

March 26, 2021
June 21, 2023
Exercise for dentist on chair in sitting position

When most people hear about ergonomics in the workplace, we probably think about a secretary or some sort of office worker who spends long, hard hours slumped over in an uncomfortable cubicle, staring at a computer screen for hours on end. Or perhaps we think about warehouse or factory workers who either lift heavy objects throughout the day or go through the same repetitive movements that put an incredible amount of stress on certain parts of their bodies.

Though office employees, factory workers, and warehouse workers can certainly benefit from improved ergonomics, there are other professions which increase risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders .

Have you ever thought about a dentist or a dental hygienist being at ergonomic risk? Throughout the day, these necessary and important professionals probably attend to dozens of clients. As they search for and fill cavities, do regular cleanings, or perform root canals, dentists and dental hygienists are most likely uncomfortably inclined over their patients. Whether sitting or standing, dentists tend to  compromise their posture and not protect their back, neck, and shoulders while hunched over their patients.

Ergonomics is the science of adapting the work environment to protect the musculoskeletal health and wellbeing of the worker. In the  case of dentistry,  there are several ways to implement the science of ergonomics , such as applying proper dental ergonomic posture. In this short article, we’ll explain the best practice for ergonomics in dentistry.

The Importance of Ergonomics in Dentistry

Would you believe that more than six out of every ten dentists have reported suffering from some sort of musculoskeletal health problem during their career? According to a study published in the BMC Musculoskeletal Disorder Journal, “62% of dentists reported at least one musculoskeletal complaint, 30% chronic complaints, 16% had spells of absence, and 32% sought medical care. Self-reported factors of physical load were associated with the occurrence of back pain, shoulder pain, and hand/wrist pain.”

The main causes of these musculoskeletal disorders arise from overstrained and awkward back postures when attending to their clients. Furthermore, the repetitive movements affecting the neck and shoulder region also lead to these disorders. The same study determined that a slight hand neuropathy has also been reported due to repeated and long-term exposure to high frequency vibration tools that are commonly used in the profession.

The best way for dentists and dental hygienists to avoid developing chronic musculoskeletal disorders is to be mindful of the extra strain on the neck, shoulders, back and other core muscles that comes from the forward-folding posture affecting the upper spine. This kyphosis, or rounded upper back, “hunching” posture that characterizes a dentist’s work environment is similar to what is faced by office workers in front of a computer or a carpenter who works long hours over a workbench.

Taking time to relax and stretch is essential for dentists who face long hours of work with several clients during the day. Setting aside a 15-to 20-minute time frame between patients might allow dentists to do stretches and yoga to focus on chest-opening and neck and back extensions. To get started try these two important extension exercises periodically throughout your day. Don’t hold these positions, but instead, make smooth continuous movement. Try 5 in a row, and then do them again later! 

neck extensions stretch


* Neck Extensions: Start by placing one or both hands in the back of your neck for support. Tip your head back to look up at the ceiling. Pause and return to start. Do 5 smooth repetitions.  Important Note: Always do these with your hands in position to support your neck. 

back extension stretch

*Back Extensions: Stand with feet hip-width apart for a good base of support.  Place both hands in the small of your back for support. Keeping your knees straight, gently arch backward. Pause and return to starting position. Important Note: Always support your low back with your hands.

*These postural re-sets are for health improvement and injury prevention only. They do not constitute medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have an injury or medical concern please consult your healthcare provider before engaging in these activities.

The Best Dental Ergonomic Posture 

Implementing proper posture and proper patient positioning is by far the best way to help dentists avoid musculoskeletal disorders. To reduce postural stress, particularly in the neck and shoulders, use a double articulating headrest. Make sure that it is well-cushioned for patient comfort, too.

Furthermore, properly sized dental chairs are extremely important to ensure proper posture. With undersized work chairs, dentists will not be close enough to the oral cavity to properly do their work. This necessitates leaning forward increasing the weight of the head on the neck by about 300 percent. Through repetition, this awkward posture will most certainly cause chronic muscle problems in the upper back, shoulders, and neck region without consistent correction.

Proper Ergonomics In Dentistry Starts With Work-Fit

Work-Fit  is a leading company that offers onsite injury-prevention and management for your workforce. As the nationwide leader in applying sports medicine techniques in the workplace to prevent injuries and increase your company's bottom line, Work-Fit is a great resource to help dentists find ways to protect and enhance their health and wellbeing in their workplace.

Our injury-prevention program can help dentists implement the best ergonomics and engage in postural relief activities as part of a more holistic preventive care model. 

If you are interested in protecting your musculoskeletal health as a dentist, contact Work-Fit today to learn about how we can help your team!


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