The one thing they “forgot” to mention to you in dental hygiene school, probably because you would have run for the exit, is that this profession is brutal on your body. With the rigors of exerting countless strenuous motions, day in and day out, for hours on end, there is a great deal of physical strain put on your muscles and bones. Even if you are the most ergonomically correct clinician with the proper seat, shoes, and loupes, the reality is that all patients are different and they all have varying needs that you are required to accommodate.
Therefore, as a clinician, it will be necessary for you to attend to patients’ needs by doing things outside standard treatment. These treatment modifications look different for each patient. There will be times when you’ll find that treatment will require you to stand up, or straddle the patient, or sit on the floor in an awkward position or kneel on your chair over the patient (yes, I’ve done them all). This all causes your body to be pushed beyond its normal limits, and with that, it is inevitable that physical disturbances will occur.
According to research done by the Business Insider, dental hygiene is considered the number one most “unhealthy” career.1 The article states it is because we are exposed to disease, sharp instruments, and radiation in conjunction, with the physical strain our bodies endure in order to get the job done. In the United States, the top two causes for work-related disability are arthritis and back pain.2 We all know what back pain is, but do you know what arthritis really is and how it is caused? Forms of arthritis are caused by repetitive trauma to a specific area. This repetitive action causes inflammation and pain. If not treated appropriately, these symptoms can become chronic and debilitating. This means that your new career has a high likelihood of causing you to suffer from the top two work-related disabilities. I know these are some scary facts. But since you’re a new graduate, it’s not yet too late to start implementing proper health habits.
There is hope! How massage therapy can help
Implementing massage therapy into your self-care regimen can benefit your stability and longevity in your dental hygiene career. One of the main reasons why massage therapy is so beneficial is because it improves circulation. Improved circulation enhances the delivery of oxygen and nutrients, aiding muscles in the repair and the purge of waste products. Circulation inhibits inflammatory conditions and edema, which can easily set in with repeated physical stress. Massage induces a relaxation response that decreases the heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure, and conversely boosts the immune system and reduces the negative effects of physical stress.
Is massage therapy right for you?
The nice thing about massage therapy is that it is generally noninvasive, and from it you can reap great rewards. Worldwide, it is considered one of the safest treatments for pain. It has been used for centuries as a natural way to treat and heal ailments of many kinds. “Massage can treat conditions including stress-related tension, sleep disorders, headaches/migraines, diabetes, low back pain, repetitive stress injuries and depression, just to name a few.”3
But be aware, as there are some contraindications to massage therapy. It is important to be familiar with them in order to decide if massage therapy is the best treatment for you. If you are pregnant, suffer from Bell’s Palsy, severe diabetes, psoriasis or eczema, epilepsy, osteoporosis, or cardiovascular conditions, you need to be even more aware than others who are not dealing with those same conditions. A contraindication does not necessarily mean that treatment cannot take place, though.In fact, massage can be very therapeutic for many medical conditions. However, in the above cases, it is a sound decision to speak to your physician before partaking in any type of massage if you have any concerns.
Being a dental hygienist is awesome, but it’s so important to take care of yourself. This way you can have a long, successful, lucrative, and healthy career. Do not push off pain. If you start experiencing pain, act swiftly and treat it immediately. Pain only gets worse and before you know it, you could end up physically deteriorating quickly. Your ability to work is your greatest asset. You should do what you can to protect it.
- Kiersz A, Gillett R. The 47 jobs that are most damaging to your health. Business Insider website. https://www.businessinsider.com/most-unhealthy-jobs-in-america-2017-4. Published November 14, 2018.
- Griffin RM. Leading causes of disability. WebMD website. https://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/features/top-causes-disability.
- Massage. University of California San Francisco Health website. https://www.ucsfhealth.org/treatments/massage/.
Katie Santos, MA, RDH, earned her Associate of Science in dental hygiene from Bristol Community College in 2013, and her Bachelor of Arts in communication studies in 1996. Also, from the University of Rhode Island, she obtained her Master of Education in 2018. Katie is a professor at three area colleges, all while continuing to work in private practice doing clinical hygiene. Katie an advocate for and participant in various dental and community outreach and volunteer programs.