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A Head-to-Toe Guide to Dental Hygienist Pain

Dec 28, 2018

Author: Susanna Scherer RDH

Head, shoulders, knees and toes: Do you find yourself singing along as you read those words? As a result of work-related risks and injuries, many dental hygienists associate those body parts with areas of pain and musculoskeletal problems instead of with song lyrics.

While chronic pain is common among dental hygienists, the good news is that there are steps you can take to prevent and manage dental hygienist pain throughout the body.

Preventing Work-Related Pain

Can you still hear your hygiene instructors telling you to sit up straight or adjust your position while working on patients? Their constant reminders were designed to help you prevent head, neck and back pain. While their instructions may always be tucked away in your memory, today dental hygienists have many tools to help eliminate the bad posture habits that may lead to dental hygienist pain.

Saddle stools and loupes are two excellent ways to improve ergonomics in the dental office. You may think these tools protect your hips and eyes alone, but they also encourage proper posture that prevents wear on your back and neck. Consult with a company representative to find a properly-fitting saddle stool or the best magnification level of loupes for your body and needs.

Preventing and managing carpal tunnel syndrome is key for avoiding dental hygienist pain in the hands and wrists. Keeping the wrists in a neutral position while caring for patients, and stretching your hands before intensive procedures like scaling, may help prevent the triggers of carpal tunnel syndrome. Additionally, whenever possible, use ultrasonic instruments and ensure all hand instruments are sharp to help prevent fatigue and pain in the fingers, hands, wrists and arms.

Factors Outside of the Office That May Cause Pain

Be mindful of things outside of the dental office that may contribute to dental hygienist pain. Poor smartphone ergonomics, for example, may contribute to neck, back, wrist and hand strain. Maintaining good posture while using a smartphone may help to prevent and reduce pain.

Other surprising sources of pain that may affect dental hygienists are inflammatory foods and bright lights that cause eye strain. A healthy diet may help reduce inflammation that may be contributing to chronic pain. Be sure to see an eye specialist if you are experiencing eye strain.

Managing Chronic Pain

It is important to address chronic pain before it becomes a daily hassle. Be aware of any repetitive motions or awkward positions you make over the course of the day, and try to change your habits. Regular stretching and exercise may help by addressing day-to-day muscle strain and fatigue.

If you are consistently experiencing joint or muscle pain, seek professional advice and help such as physical therapy, massages or acupuncture. A physician or counselor can help you manage the emotional stress from chronic pain and suggest strategies to help you cope. Physicians can also make further recommendations like prescription medication or a referral to an orthopedic surgeon.


  • Use proper ergonomic equipment to help prevent pain in the hands, head, neck, shoulders and back.
  • Address factors outside of work that may be contributing to neck, back, wrist and hand strain.
  • Seek professional help to get relief from chronic pain.

Why It's Important

It's never too late to change the habits that may lead to dental hygienist pain. Making changes to how you currently practice dental hygiene and seeking professional care may relieve your chronic pain. Taking steps to prevent and address chronic pain will allow you to continue providing care to patients.

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