DENTAL HYGIENISTS, MUSCULOSKELETAL DISORDERS, AND WORKERS’ COMPENSATION: MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS AT RISK OF INDUSTRIAL ORTHOPEDIC INJURIES: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Many occupations are susceptible to work injuries.  One of these occupations is that of a Dental Hygienist.  More specifically, Dental Hygienists are at risk for musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs.)  This has been recognized by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH.)

This article will discuss the occupation of Dental Hygienist, how Dental Hygienists are at risk for musculoskeletal disorders, and caselaw of interest.

What is a Dental Hygienist?

Per the American Dental Association(ADA), a Dental Hygienist is a licensed position which varies from state to state.  Note: The practice of dental hygiene in California is regulated by the Dental Hygiene Board of California.

The tasks of Dental Hygienists can include “patient screening procedures; such as assessment of oral health conditions, review of the health history, oral cancer screening, head and neck inspection, dental charting and taking blood pressure and pulse, taking and developing dental radiographs (x-rays), removing calculus and plaque (hard and soft deposits) from all surfaces of the teeth, applying preventive materials to the teeth (e.g., sealants and fluorides), teaching patients appropriate oral hygiene strategies to maintain oral health; (e.g., tooth brushing, flossing and nutritional counseling), counseling patients about good nutrition and its impact on oral health, making impressions of patients’ teeth for study casts (models of teeth used by dentists to evaluate patient treatment needs,)[and] performing documentation and office management activities.”

Dental Hygienists can work in a variety of locations.   This locations include Dental Offices.  This can include Dental Offices of General Practitioners as well a Specialty Practitioners’ Offices such as Periodontics and Pediatric Dentistry.

Dental Hygienists also may work at Public Health Agencies, Hospitals and Community Health Clinics. They can work for public school systems, dental schools and dental hygiene educational programs.  Dental hygiene services can be performed in hospitals, nursing homes, prisons and public health clinics.

Note: Activities of interest involve the activities in which the patient is in the dental chair and the Dental Hygienist is performing services upon them.

What Are Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD)?

Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) are injuries or disorders of the muscles, nerves, tendons, joints, cartilage, and spinal discs.

What Types of Musculoskeletal Injuries Do Dental Hygienists Sustain?

Dental Hygienists are susceptible to a multitude of musculoskeletal disorders.  Upper Extremity problems are common.  These upper extremity diseases or conditions include tendonitis, tennis elbow, and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Has There Been Any Caselaw Concerning Dental Hygienists with Cumulative Trauma Musculoskeletal Injuries?

Yes. In Barnes vs. WCAB (2013) 78 C.C.C. 1137 (writ denied), the case involved a Dental Hygienist who suffered a cumulative trauma musculoskeletal injury to her neck and back.  In the matter, there was a dispute as to whether there was also an aggravation of an underlying fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.  In the case, there was a finding of industrial causation for those body parts.

Are Musculoskeletal Disorders for Dental Hygienists a Concern for the State of California?

Yes.  The State of California is concerned over the risk of injury for Dental Hygienists. The State recommends ergonomics programs in order to promoted a safe and efficient workplace.

What Are Ergonomics?

Per OSHA,  “ [w]orkers in many different industries and occupations can be exposed to risk factors at work, such as lifting heavy items, bending, reaching overhead, pushing and pulling heavy loads, working in awkward body postures and performing the same or similar tasks repetitively. Exposure to these known risk factors for MSDs increases a worker’s risk of injury.

Work-related MSDs can be prevented. Ergonomics — fitting a job to a person — helps lessen muscle fatigue, increases productivity and reduces the number and severity of work-related MSDs.”.

Are There Ergonomic Tools for Dental Hygienists?

Yes. The State of California offer videos designed for Dental Hygienists.  Here is the link. https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CCDPHP/DEODC/OHB/Pages/ErgonomicsDentalHygiene.aspx

There are videos which include topics such posturing and position, use and choice of instruments and body strengthening.

What if I Need Advice?

If you would like a free consultation regarding workers’ compensation, please contact the Law Offices of Edward J. Singer, a Professional Law Corporation. We have been helping people in Central and Southern California deal with their workers’ compensation cases for 27 years. Contact us today for more information.

Dentistry and Workers’ Compensation: What You Need to Know

In California Workers’ Compensation, Dental Injuries are permissible. An accepted Dental Injury claim allows the Injured Worker to seek and obtain dental treatment.

Dental Treatment can be complex in nature. There are many different components within the mouth that may require treatment.   As a result of these different components, a single Dental Injury claim may require the Injured Worker to seek multiple dental specialties to complete their course of treatment.   Continue reading

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