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Five steps to practicing pain-free dentistry

PORTLAND, Ore., U.S.: Research shows that 75% of dental professionals complain of musculoskeletal pain, and now the COVID-19 pandemic is adding to the problem by causing additional stress and physical exertion.

Dr. Bethany Valachi, author of Practice Dentistry Pain-Free: Evidence-based Strategies to Prevent Pain and Extend Your Career and clinical instructor of ergonomics at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, will hold a live webinar on Jan. 13 to provide an overview of her five-step system that aims to take the pain out of dental practice.

Despite the vast clinical and technological progress that has been made in dentistry, the prevalence of lower back pain in dental practitioners remains the same today as it was in the mid-1940s. Three-quarters of dental professionals complain of a musculoskeletal disorder, and one-third of dentists who retire early do so because of the condition.

According to Valachi, pain need not be a necessary result of dental practice. She added, however: “Unfortunately, many dental and hygiene schools do not teach comprehensive evidence-based ergonomic and wellness education. Also, many dental equipment manufacturers offer nonergonomic equipment that can actually create pain syndromes.”

Valachi explained to Dental Tribune International (DTI) that the prevalence of pain in dentistry has not been reduced because the etiology of the pain is usually not correctly identified and because interventions and product development are frequently not evidence-based. “Without accurate recognition of etiology, it is impossible to implement effective interventions. Dentists would not dream of treating a patient without first identifying the problem or cause of the patient’s pain. Likewise, identifying the etiology of work-related pain in the operatory is the first step in determining effective interventions,” she said.

In her free webinar, Valachi will provide an overview of the five steps that dental practitioners can take to reduce or eliminate pain. She explained that there are several key areas that need to be addressed: implementing proper evidence-based dental ergonomics in the operatory, regularly performing two types of exercise, managing myofascial health and down-regulating the sympathetic nervous system.

Valachi said that it is critical that these evidence-based interventions be implemented in the proper sequence. “It is all too common to observe dental professionals attempting to resolve their pain with special therapies, medications or exercise routines, only to return to the operatory environment that likely caused the pain problem in the first place. Therefore, dental ergonomic intervention is first and foremost in our sequence,” she emphasized.

Correcting problematic operatory ergonomics should be the first course of action, Valachi said, adding that this process begins with dental practitioners asking themselves a number of simple yet important questions, such as: What type of operator stool should I use based on my height, lumbar curvature, gender and body size? And are my loupes improving or hurting the health of my neck?

“Now, more than ever, dental professionals need to be availing themselves of evidence-based ergonomic and wellness education”

Dentists have already been greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic; however, an additional long-term effect could be an increase in practice-related pain. “Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and the usage of heavy personal protective equipment (PPE), dentists may have noticed an increase in neck pain, fatigue, headaches or dehydration. The heavy PPE causes us to use the body improperly, which results in increased stress, headaches, dehydration and fatigue,” Valachi explained.

She told DTI that the physical symptoms resulting from the use of heavy PPE and added stress could be prevented through the implementation of the correct strategies. “Now, more than ever, dental professionals need to be availing themselves of evidence-based ergonomic and wellness education,” she said, adding that they can reduce or eliminate practice-related pain with targeted evidence-based interventions.

Valachi’s free live webinar, titled “5 steps to practicing dentistry pain-free,” will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 13, at 1 p.m. EST, and participants will have the opportunity to earn one continuing education credit. For more information and to register, see the webinar announcement on the DT Study Club site.


  • Portland, OR, USA
  • Dr. Bethany Valachi