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Posturing for relief

ADA Conference on Dentist Health and Well-Being poised to help dentists with ergonomic problems

July 15, 2013

By Kelly Soderlund, ADA News staff

Mr. Caruso
The statistics don't lie.

In fact, they tell a story. But it's a painful tale.

According to data collected at the ADA's Health Screening Program at the 2012 Annual Session in San Francisco, 70 percent of dentists and dental team members examined reported neck or back pain. Of that group, 79 percent reported symptoms that were worsening or unchanging.

It's unfortunately not news that given the way they work and the posture they exhibit during the day, dentists are prone to ergonomic problems.

“You think about their day, and it's just such bad posture all day,” said David Pleva, a physical therapist at Community Physical Therapy in Addison, Ill. “Spending hours in that position is not a good thing.”

It's a daily struggle for many and one that prompts ergonomics experts and physical therapists to help dentists figure out the best ways to manage and treat their pain.

“It puts dentists in the class of assembly workers at General Motors or furniture manufacturers—people who do manual labor,” said Robert Werner, M.D., a professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Michigan and chief of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the Veteran's Affairs Ann Arbor Healthcare System.

“Dentists are on the higher end of complaints, which you would not expect for a relatively white collar, sedentary group of workers.”

Dentists who attend the ADA Conference on Dentist Health and Well-Being Sept. 19-20 at ADA Headquarters in Chicago will have the opportunity to attend ergonomics workshops and meet with physical therapists that can assess individual symptoms and recommend a course of action. The conference also promises a lineup of speakers who will provide personal and anecdotal stories to help dentists lead a healthier life. Stephen J. Pasierb, the president and CEO of the Partnership for a Drug Free America, will deliver the keynote address.

Tim Caruso, a physical therapist and founder of Chicagoland Performance Consultants, and Mr. Pleva will conduct range of motion clinics on both days of the wellness conference. Mr. Caruso coordinated the ergonomics section of the Health Screening Program and shared some statistics he collected:

  • 30 percent of the people screened have had symptoms for more than 10 years;
  • 10 percent reported functional disability at work;
  • Nearly 32 percent noted improvement after correcting their sitting posture;
  • Nearly 37 percent said repetitive activities at work caused their pain;
  • 59 percent reported feeling worse when still, while 48 percent reported feeling better when they moved;
  • Around 78 percent of people assessed responded positively to mechanical therapy.

With his patients, Mr. Caruso said he first tries to get them to self-treat their problems through individualized exercises. He's been lecturing and consulting with dental professionals about back and neck posture for more than 20 years and said many dentists' first instinct is to seek out a surgeon.

“When you go to a surgeon, they usually recommend surgery, which may not be the most appropriate or beneficial first step,” Mr. Caruso said. “A lot of these folks don't know how or from whom to seek out a conservative treatment approach.”

Mr. Caruso recommends the McKenzie Method, which prescribes a series of exercises tailored to each patient based on an individualized assessment and their symptom response to a series of static and dynamic movements. The emphasis is on active patient involvement, which minimizes the number of visits to the doctor, according to the McKenzie Method website.

“The beauty of the approach is we know within two or three visits whether it's going to work for somebody,” Mr. Caruso said. “We have found that of all the treatment approaches that appear to be available, this seems to be the most portable, simple way to categorize people with back pain and also offers a treatment plan so they can help themselves.”

The ADA-sponsored Disability Income Protection Insurance Plan offers protection for member dentists against the occupational risk of disability. Disability insurance provides the financial security ADA members need to protect against financial loss because of a disabling injury or illness that prevents them from practicing dentistry.

The ADA Members Disability and Office Overhead Expense Plans are designed exclusively for member dentists and preserve the true own occupation definition of disability. The disability plan can pay disability benefits up to age 65 and members who become totally disabled from their special area of dental practice will receive full benefits, even if they choose to work in another area of dentistry or a new profession.

ADA eligible members may apply for up to $15,000 per month in coverage to replace future net earnings. The ADA-sponsored members disability and office overhead expense insurance plans are underwritten and administered by Great-West Financial. For more information, including the cost of the insurance, coverage limitations and terms for keeping coverage in force, visit ADA Insurance or call 888.463.4545.