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Tips to prevent wrist pain in dentistry

Being a dental professional, we all have had tiring days with patients lined up for their treatments. We are working for hours performing repetitive movements with our hands and wrists, grasping the same instruments all day for most of the patient’s treatments. Over time with our profession, we are at an increased risk for developing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) due to our repetitive motions and the demands on our hands.

Not only dentists but dental hygienists, denturists, and dental assistants are also exposed to repetitive grip imbalances. Our hand muscles cross many joints throughout the lower arm, and thus the usability of the fingers, thumb, hand, wrist, carpal tunnel, and elbow often become compromised – especially over time.

But even in being this profession, you still can reduce or eliminate your pain by developing better working habits.

First, let’s discuss the hand motions that may aggravate hand pain:

  • Gripping instruments with slim handles, such as periodontal probes, explorers, scalers, curettes, and endodontic files.

  • Gripping instruments with static intensity for a long period. This can happen when doing procedures that require precise, small movements, such as working in small areas, while trying to prevent injury to surrounding tissues.

  • Gripping vibrating instruments, such as a rotary handpiece, over a long period.

  • Gripping instruments tightly by pinching with the thumb and fingers.

  • Lifting heavy objects or doing forceful movements with the fingers, such as tooth extraction or using heavier instruments.

  • Doing procedures that require torquing motions in the wrist and hand, such as cleaning root canals.

  • Doing procedures that require repetitive motion over a long period, such as scaling teeth.

  • Use of fingers while the wrist is held in a non-neutral position, especially a flexed position for an extended period. This technique is most commonly done while scaling teeth.

Now here are a few tips that help manage hand and wrist pain:

  • Wearing a wrist sleeve during the early preclinical lab days will reduce the strain as you get used to dental techniques.

  • Wearing a rigid wrist guard to bed will prevent you from straining the wrist while sleeping.

Please try the below-mentioned exercises between patients, or every hour or so, to keep your wrists feeling loose and limber.

  • Make a tight fist with one hand, then release and spread out your fingers. Repeat this five times for each hand.

  • Pull your thumb back and away from your palm for five seconds. Repeat this five to 10 times for each hand.

  • Keep your pointer and middle fingers extended, while the rest are down (like a peace sign). Then draw five clockwise circles with your raised fingers, then repeat in a counterclockwise motion. Repeat for the opposite hand.

  • Use instruments that reduce the amount of time the hand must be used, like instruments with variable and rapid speeds. These will enable you to use the instruments without the risk of repetitive strain injury occurring. Where possible use instruments with features that are easy to use, such as vibration-free, lightweight, and enlarged handles.

  • Take regular breaks from repetitive tasks, which will be a great way to vary the hand and wrist movement.

These were a few tips that are practiced over the years by dental professionals. Let us know if you have any more tips to prevent wrist pain.


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