Coping With Emotions and Chronic Pain as a Dental Hygienist 

DATE: Aug 22, 2018
AUTHOR: Susanna Scherer RDH

Dental hygiene can be taxing on the body, resulting in emotions and chronic pain that are all too familiar for many dental hygienists. These issues should not be ignored. Dental hygienists must address the chronic pain and find an outlet for addressing their physical and emotional health. If you find you are experiencing chronic work-related pain as a dental hygienist, know that you are not alone and there are ways to find relief.

You're Not Alone

Recurring shoulder, neck and back pain is a common hardship among dental professionals. In 2012, data about workplace-related injuries among dental hygienists in North America was collected. The data was published in RDH Magazine and revealed that over one half of all respondents (51 percent) reported one or more work-related musculoskeletal disorders.

Many dental hygienists experience chronic pain as a result of providing care in unnatural positions for their patients. For example, when patient are limited in how far they can recline in the dental chair, dental hygienists may compensate their own posture in order to provide care. According to Dentistry IQ, this places the neck, shoulders, spine and hands at risk for permanent damage.

Preventing Work-Related Injuries

There are steps dental hygienists can take in the office to help prevent workplace-related shoulder, neck and back pain. For example, using proper equipment, such as sharp instruments, wearing loupes and sitting on a saddle stool, can help you maintain a healthy posture. In addition, incorporating in-office stretches into the workday may help reduce day-to-day pain that could progress to chronic pain.

Seeking treatment outside of the office, such as chiropractic care or massage therapy, and performing yoga, may help to prevent work-related injuries. Don't hesitate to take some time for yourself. If you don't first take care of yourself, you may no longer be able to care for your patients.

Addressing the Emotions of Work-Related Pain

Chronic pain can limit everyday activities, making it hard to work and difficult to enjoy your time and hobbies outside of work. It is important for dental hygienists to address the emotional consequences of chronic pain, such as stress, frustration and depression.

Discussing ongoing pain and the emotional aspects of it with your physician is one step towards relief. Physicians can make recommendations for medical treatment, such as medication or referrals to a specialist when necessary. According to the National Institutes of Health, cognitive behavioral therapy may help address the emotional response from chronic pain. A therapist may be able to help you:

  • Learn how to foster positive thoughts instead of negative ones
  • Reduce your fear of pain
  • Strengthen relationships with your loved ones and support system
  • Develop a sense of freedom from your pain

Takeaways

  • Know that you are not alone, and there are resources available to help you feel better, physically and emotionally.
  • Take steps to prevent permanent damage, such as wearing loupes or sitting on a saddle stool.
  • Seek help from your physician if you experience chronic pain from work-related injuries.

Why It's Valuable

To continue providing optimal care for your patients, you must first care for yourself. It is important to take steps to prevent work-related injuries, and also to seek help for emotions and chronic pain to care for your whole mind and body.