In response to a high prevalence of neck and back pain among working dentists and dental hygienists, the dean of the University of Maryland Dental School Christian S. Stohler, DMD, DrMedDent, has launched an initiative to bring renewed attention to ergonomics into dental education.
Starting with the current semester, every incoming student must take the School's course "Ergonomics in Dentistry," before he or she can practice simulations or live-patient dental work. The School wants to be the place where dentists and dental hygienists learn to practice ergonomically correct practices, says Stohler.
"Three out of every five dentists live with the pain," due to years of practicing with poor posture and other unwise positioning, guest lecturer Lance Rucker, DDS, director of clinical ergonomics and simulation at the University of British Columbia, told this year's incoming class.
Stohler recruited Rucker as the world's leading authority on dentistry ergonomics to kick off its course with a lecture and workshops. He greeted the new students with, "If you want to be a healthy, well-postured individual, statistically you have chosen the wrong profession. However, you do have a choice."
Studies in the U.S. and in Canada over the past 37 years have underscored the need for dentists to adopt more ergonomically correct equipment and positioning, Rucker explained. He said that two-thirds of dentists lose days of practice each year by avoidable muscular skeletal pain.
Retired professor Michael Belenky, DDS, MPH, has taught what he refers to as human center ergonomics at the School for many years." We first ask a student to identify how he or she would like to stand or sit for optimal visual and physical comfort and effectiveness," says Belenky.
"Many dentists eventually need years of physical therapy, go to a chiropractor or even have surgery, but seldom do you hear about the need for preventive solutions, the etiology of the problem."
Norman Bartner, DDS, a clinical assistant professor who leads the upgraded course (above with students), says, "We are widely recognized as the No. 1 dental school in the country. Now we want to be known as the School that graduates students with the longest careers, greatest earning capacity, and enjoy the most leisure time because they are healthy." He adds, "This should increase alumni financial support for the School as well."
Bartner and Belenky have created an instructional video that begins with dentists who have been forced from the profession with musculo-skeletal problems, due to poor ergonomic working conditions.
Bartner says, "I don't want students developing musculo-skeletal problems from chronic stress on the neck, shoulder, high back, and low back. We start all the dental students off with knowing the proper posture as a dentist for avoiding such career-limiting problems."