Md. dental school focuses on ergonomics

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 Stohler, DMD, 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 Ergonomics in Dentistry course before he or she can practice simulations or live-patient dental work, the university announced. The school wants to be the place where dentists and dental hygienists learn ergonomically correct practices, Dr. Stohler said.

"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.

Dr. Stohler recruited Dr. 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 this recommendation: "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 Canada over the past 37 years have underscored the need for dentists to adopt more ergonomically correct equipment and positioning, Dr. Rucker said, noting 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," Dr. Belenky said. "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."

Dr. Belenky and Norman Bartner, DDS, a clinical assistant professor who leads the ergonomics course, have created an instructional video that begins with dentists who have been forced from the profession with musculoskeletal problems, due to poor ergonomic working conditions.

"We are widely recognized as the No. 1 dental school in the country," Dr. Bartner said. "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."

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