You’re in the chair, but your dentist feels the pain. The UBC Dentistry program is changing that
Hunching over like Quasimodo can take its toll, but until recently, dentists didn’t know they had a choice.
“Traditionally, pain was considered part and parcel of the profession,” says Dr. Lance Rucker, professor in the Faculty of Dentistry and director of Clinical Ergonomics and Simulation. “As a result, three out of five dentists live with pain and end up losing days of practice each year.”
Recent North American statistics show that 67 per cent of dentists and 80 per cent of dental hygienists in North America experience musculoskeletal problems, primarily in the neck and back. However, over the past 15 years, there has been a major awakening, says Rucker.
“Clinicians have started to realize that chronic discomfort and injuries are preventable.”
And since the 1990s, Rucker—a leading global expert on dental ergonomics education and ergonomics clinical assessment—has been helping to refine UBC curriculum and develop specialized teaching equipment.
”We’ve heard from many of our students that one of the reasons they’ve decided to come to UBC is for the integrated clinical ergonomics,” says Rucker. “The word on the street is that our graduates do not undergo the same wear and tear as graduates from other universities.”
Indeed, a 2001 B.C. Workers Compensation Board survey showed that UBC-trained dentists and dental hygienists—about half of those working in the province—were statistically less likely to suffer low back pain.
Rucker explains that from the outset, UBC students develop muscle memory for working in balance—rather than contorting their bodies—while wielding the required instruments and accessing the necessary areas to operate in the patient’s mouth.
Students also learn how to optimally adjust equipment, from tilting the patient’s headrest to controlling the angle of the operatory light.
“Although most modern dental equipment is designed with basic ergonomics in mind, I always tell students, if the setting isn’t working for you, then you’re working for the setting,” says Rucker, who also specializes in operatory design concepts.
He recently took part in a World Health Organization initiative to provide enhanced simulation training for oral health care workers in Thailand and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.
And over the past five years, he has consulted on the design and construction of many new educational and private clinic facilities in North America, including Jamaica’s first oral health training facility in Kingston, which just opened for patient care in September 2010.
To further spread the ergonomics message, Rucker is working with longtime research collaborator Dr. Michael Belenky, former professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore Dental School, to produce an online manual for clinical ergonomics assessments and tools.
Working with oral health professionals throughout North America, Rucker provides ergonomic practice assessment that first identifies the factors that contribute to the ergonomics risk profile of the clinician. He then provides practical solutions to prevent further musculoskeletal injuries and to reduce risk factors linked with musculoskeletal symptoms.
“Within four to six weeks after a few retraining sessions, most motivated clinicians can re-educate their muscles to operate in balance as a matter of habit,” says Rucker.