While providing the right treatment should be at the forefront for healthcare providers, preventing hazards is equally important. And healthcare professionals are exposed to numerous hazards in the workplace that can not only pose a risk to them but patients as well!
Dentistry is no exception and each task performed in the dental clinic environment needs to be carried out carefully to mitigate risks. In this guide, we take a look at three physical occupational hazards that dental care providers face and also discuss what can be done to avoid disasters.
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) affect the musculoskeletal system, i.e., muscles, tendons, ligaments, etc., impacting movement. Also known as repetitive stress injury, repetitive motion injury, and overuse injury, MSDs develop as a result of exposure to risk factors- work-related as well as individual-related.
Here are some of them:
(a) Awkward Postures
While performing dentistry procedures, dentists assume awkward or strained postures which induce stress injury, specifically in the neck, shoulders, back, hand, and wrist. A good or neutral position for any joint is when it is being used in the middle of its full range of motion. Body posture becomes awkward or poorer as joints move towards the extremes of their motion range, straining muscles, tendons, ligaments, and neurovascular structures.
(b) Static Postures
A working posture maintained for longer than 4 seconds is defined as a static posture. Holding an awkward posture for a prolonged period of time leads to reduced blood flow to the tissues and accumulation of lactic acid and other metabolites. Subsequently, this leads to muscle fatigue and injury.
(c) Repetitive Movements
Repetitive tasks put the same or similar parts of the body to continuous use with few breaks in between. For example, when gripping dental instruments, dentists have to constantly perform forearm rotation and wrist extension and flexion. Even when the force exerted is minimal, repetitive movements can cause discomfort, fatigue, tissue damage, and injury.
Often, bad postures can be corrected with proper seating and patient positioning. Use of ergonomic seating and having equipment, materials, documents, and the like within easy reach is another way to avoid applying undue stress on joints.
According to a Marietta family dentist that we spoke to, diagnostic X-ray imaging has an important role in modern dental practice. Dental X-rays allow dentists to detect a presence of tooth decay, unerupted teeth, pathological lesions in the jaw bone, and a number of other details that can't be seen otherwise.
While the amount of radiation received from diagnostic dental X-ray imaging is low, it is important for healthcare providers in this field to implement regulations diligently. This includes:
Non-ionising radiation is equally important in dentistry- while laser light is used in root canal treatment, periodontal surgery, analgesia, bleaching, tooth cavity preparation, and more, LED light is used to cure dental restorative materials like resin-based composites.
• Clinically justifying all radiological exposures.
• Using certified X-ray units and having them maintained and serviced as required.
• Avoiding exposure by staying out of the direct line of a beam and maintaining a distance of about 2 meters from the patient’s head.
• Taking account of people at risk and previous dose records for staff involved in imaging procedures.
Eye damage is a common occupational hazard related to the use of both laser and LED light. Skin damage, smoke inhalation, and fire hazards are further associated with the use of laser light. Control strategies to mitigate risks include appropriate workplace design, having restricted work areas, using protective gear, and providing adequate staff training.
3) Pressure Equipment
Pressure equipment like compressed gas cylinders, compressed air systems, and autoclaves used in dentistry are associated with the most serious risks as they usually arise from the uncontrolled release of stored energy. For example, opening the autoclave door while the equipment is still under pressure can lead to an explosion of sealed glass containers and cause scalding.
Pressure system occupational hazards are linked to mechanical failure or inappropriate use of equipment and can not only cause serious injury to both dental staff and patients but also major damage to the property.
Control measures to avoid risks include:
• Storing equipment like gas cylinders upright in a well-ventilated place, and always following manufacturer or supplier recommendations for storing and transportation.
• A thorough examination of equipment to ensure proper labeling.
• Carefully determining type of equipment before handling.
• Entrusting qualified and capable personnel to carry out inspection, maintenance, and repairs on a regular basis.
• Providing adequate training to staff and ensuring rules and regulations are being adhered to at all times.
Systematic identification of physical occupational hazards in the dental clinic environment is important for the safety of dental care providers as well as patients. With this guide, we have also highlighted protective and preventative measures that you can adopt and implement in your clinic to mitigate risks associated with your practice.