Most veteran dentists deal with neck and back pain from years of twisting and bending over patients. Looking ahead, education and support during dental school can prevent these problems later in life and preserve careers, according to research from the Dental Institute at King’s College London.
“Chronic neck and back pain is a known problem among dental personnel, to the extent that some eventually have to stop clinical work,” said Mark Woolford, PhD, dean of education. “It is essential dental schools are aware of this and are taking measures to educate and support those oral healthcare workers in training at the very beginning of their career.”
The researchers assessed 390 dental students during each year of their BDS program, quantifying their experience of upper back, lower back, and neck pain. They found that neck and back pain constituted a major problem in the daily lives of those surveyed.
For example, 79% experienced pain, with 42% experiencing pain for 30 or more days in the past year. Lower back pain was the most common, affecting 54%, and most frequently the worst area of pain at 48%. Also, 36% reported pain lasting at least 4 hours. To alleviate pain, 56% used daily stretching, and 18% sought professional help.
Mark Ide, PhD, lead author of the study, brought in a personal trainer to spend a day with a group of his senior students. The trainer showed them exercises and coping strategies to help them improve their posture in the short term as well as exercises to develop core strength and deal with overactive muscle areas with fascial tightening and restriction.
Additionally, Ide would like to see these types of educational techniques incorporated into the dental curriculum since visible improvements in the students’ postures were seen within a day, confirming that intervention was a feasible option for students.
Dental magnifying glasses or loupes also can prevent neck and back pain, the researchers said. The school has worked with students and various companies to encourage more use to both improve posture and provide training in high-quality operative care, though the equipment can be expensive for students.
“Ideally, we would wish to mandate that students do all their clinical activity with magnification, as this benefits both patient and student, but the cost issues need to be addressed. We have seen a good uptake of loupes use and overall improved postural awareness of students when delivering care to patients,” said Ide.
“However, I would wish to develop this further and embed self-care into the undergraduate training program from the beginning through to the end,” said Ide. “Such interventions do need, however, to be evidence based, and I am now working with colleagues at the British School of Osteopathy to look at the efficacy of some self-care techniques to help alleviate these problems.”
The study, “Musculoskeletal Neck and Back Pain in Undergraduate Dental Students at a UK Dental School—A Cross-Sectional Study,” was published by the British Dental Journal.