Most days of the week, Dr. Katie Sowa wakes up at 4:45 a.m. to break a sweat, either doing CrossFit or yoga, before heading to work. If she’s training for a half marathon, she gets her runs in before dinner or in the morning.
“Staying active and fit will help the longevity of your career,” said Dr. Sowa, a general dentist in a large group practice in Katy, Texas.
But exercising isn’t the only way she’s ensuring a long and healthy career.
“I think about ergonomics every day at work,” she said. “I hope to be practicing for a long time. And anything I can do to avoid having to use my disability insurance, I’ll do that.”
Because of the physical demands of work tasks, workstation layout issues and equipment used, dental professionals deal with a variety of job factors that can be associated with musculoskeletal disorders, such as pain in the neck, back, wrist and hands, according to the ADA Center for Professional Success.
For Dr. Sowa, the most awkward movement for her body is when she’s working with the top-left side of a patient’s mouth.
“I have to move my body to accommodate my patient,” she said. “Most of the time it affects my neck and shoulders.”
Those with chronic pain should seek advice from their family physician or physical therapist. However, easy stretches and working with more appropriate equipment and tools can help prevent fatigue and provide relief for the simple aches and pains that can occur during the working day.
According to the ADA Center for Professional Success, maintaining proper posture and making sure your operator chair is at the right height can provide balance to the spine.
“When something doesn’t feel comfortable, it helps me to just step back and readjust myself,” Dr. Sowa said.
Stretching throughout the day can also help. For shoulder or upper back discomfort, clasp your fingers behind your neck and direct your elbows forward. Lean back against the back of your chair while lifting your elbows up and forward, look up until you feel some pulling or stretching in your mid back; rest and repeat. For feet and ankles, move your foot up and down; side to side; and make circles clockwise and counterclockwise. The same goes with the wrists.
Dr. Sheri Doniger, past president of the American Association of Women Dentists, said her favorite stretch is called “the bandit.” “Put your back against the wall and lift up your arms as if you were being robbed,” she said. “That helps straighten your spine.” Along with stretches throughout the day, Dr. Doniger said dentists should make sure they’re using dental tools and equipment that are functional and comfortable. This is particularly true for female new dentists.
Dr. Doniger said much of the dental equipment available is largely designed for male dentists who are often larger and taller.
Dr. Elizabeth Ramos, AAWD director of public relations, said she joined a practice 10 years ago with male colleagues who were all 10-11 inches taller than her. The existing stools and
operatory chairs were awkward. They didn’t provide her proper back support and lacked appropriate adjustability.
With hand equipment, including syringes, it’s often a struggle for dentists with smaller hands. Bulkier, bigger or heavier dental instruments can provide additional stress on the hands and wrists. “These are challenges for dentists with smaller frames,” Dr. Ramos said.
However, with women making up about half of dental students today — up from only 1.1 percent in 1968 — dental equipment manufacturers are beginning to realize there’s a market to produce tools and equipment for dentists with smaller frames — men or women.
AAWD members and leaders have engaged these dental manufactures and suppliers in recent years through involvement with Dental Trade Alliance meetings. Companies have invited members to provide input on design and evaluate new products. And every year, during their AAWD annual meeting, they recognize a “Best New Product” for the female dentist. In 2015, it was a doctor’s
stool that could be adjusted in several dimensions, including height and tilt.
“It’s not about making something pink,” Dr. Doniger said. “Manufacturers would be wise to seek out women’s advisory groups to find out what
It’s also important for new dentists, Dr. Doniger said, to try new dental equipment showcased at dental meeting exhibit halls. “Even among women, one size doesn’t fit all,” she said. In any case, maintaining good ergonomic health doesn’t have to be complicated.
“Exercise, practicing good posture, stretching in between patients,” said Dr. Ramos. “These ideas need to be taught early on in dental school.”
“Everyone needs to listen to his or her body,” Dr. Doniger added.
For more tips on ergonomics and dental care, visit Success.ADA.org and search “ergonomics.”