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9 Tips to Prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome for Dentists

By Karen Nunez

With the increased demand in Canada for well-trained ITDs and other dental professionals, the amount of time you are bound to be performing procedures for patients will be high.

Canadians have experienced a significant decrease in dental decay over the past 40 years, and that is because roughly 75% of Canadians visit a dental clinic every year.

All of that demand probably has you a bit concerned about how to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome for dentist work.

Dentists are a bit more likely to develop carpal tunnel because many of the procedures  conducted involve the same repetitive motions, placing an extremely high demand on your hands.

From repairing a tooth to extracting a child’s teeth, you need to do your best to protect the health and endurance of your hand, arms, and upper body.

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common issue for anyone who uses their hands regularly for the same types of movements over and over again.

People like mechanics, plumbers, and even concert pianists are susceptible to the carpal tunnel because their daily activity requires using the muscles and tendons of their hands and wrists at a high level.

Dentists are the same. Every day you see patients, you will use the same basic movements.

You may start to feel pain, numbness, and general weakness along in your hands and wrists. This is the result of a median nerve that provides sensation to the thumb, index, middle fingers, and half of the ring finger.

Once that nerve receives too much pressure, it starts to cause tingling and other unwanted sensations. There are also tendons around this nerve inside the carpal tunnel that may get inflamed or irritated from repetitive stress.

What are the Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Dentists Should Watch For?

When you are experiencing carpal tunnel syndrome, it can negatively impact your dentistry practice. This is because it can cause weakness in your hands, remove your ability to conduct delicate motions, and often lead to dropping objects.

While those are the later signs, they are also clear indications that your dentistry career may be in jeopardy if left untreated.

More likely, you will experience slight numbness and tingling during the nighttime when your hands are resting.

During the day, you can expect decreased feeling in your fingertips, tingling, and difficulty handling smaller tasks like grasping a steering wheel, writing, or holding a book to read.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, we encourage you to seek out the care of a doctor. They will most likely run a few tests like:

    ♦ Tinel’s sign: Your doctor will tap over where the median nerve should be in your wrist and see if that causes any tingling in your fingers.

    ♦ Wrist flexing test: Here, you place your elbows on a table and then allow your wrist to fall forward freely. If you have carpal tunnel, you can expect to feel tingling in your fingers within about a minute.

    ♦ X-rays: If a doctor suspects you have limited motion or range in your wrist, they may request x-rays.

    ♦ Electromyography (EMG): This is a nerve conduction test to see if the median nerve is functioning properly.

How to Treat Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

The good news for all you ITDs out there preparing your move to Canada is that there are treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome.

This is a common ailment, and that means there has been plenty of research and development of treatments, including surgical and non-surgical methods.

Non-Surgical Treatments of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

These are the treatments most dentists prefer because they do not involve long healing periods. Most often, you will be asked to wear a splint when you are not performing procedures.

You may also be prescribed nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and possible cortisone injections to lower the pain and remove the swelling.

Beyond that, a doctor will work with you to make lifestyle changes. This is challenging because the most likely cause of your carpal tunnel syndrome is your dentistry work.

That is not something you can avoid without changing careers. We will get into steps you can take to prevent further damage below.

Surgical Treatments

Whenever your non-surgical treatments are not effective, you can expect the topic of surgery to come up.

The goal is to increase the size of the tunnel so that the pressure is released from your median nerve and tendon.

This is a fairly standard procedure with an excellent success rate.

The downside is that it will take time away from your practice. You can expect to experience some healing pain and stitches.

You will also be given some minor physical therapy techniques to improve the flexibility and strength of your wrists.

The risk of surgery is that you could lose some fine motor control, but that can be discussed with your doctor based on your age and other factors.

Also, Check Out

          ♦   How to Become a Dentist in Canada (A Step by Step Guide)
          ♦   How to Immigrate to Canada as a Dentist

How to Prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome for Dentists

Now that we have gotten the background information out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff. We want to be sure you are living your best new life in Canada now that you have gone through the tests and paperwork of being an ITD, and that includes offering health tips, so you have a long and lucrative practice.

Here are some basic tips and tricks to preventing carpal tunnel throughout your dental career.

1 - Introduce Wrist Exercises

 

Your career requires maintenance, just like an athlete needs to stretch or a vocalist needs to warm up their vocal box. The more pain and inflammation you are experiencing, the harder it will be to maintain fine motor control. Introducing some simple wrist exercises is a great way to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome from developing.

There are quite a few excellent exercises to research and ask your healthcare provider about, but an excellent place to start would be these three:

    ♦ Spiders - Start by placing your palms together in a prayer pose, then rotate your wrists so your fingers are pointing to the ground. Now, slowly separate your palms while keeping all your fingers together as if with glue. Think of a steeple motion and use your thumbs to push down to your other fingers. Continue doing this out and in motion for a couple of minutes.

    ♦ The Shake - It may seem elementary, but shaking your hands out like you would if air drying them is a great way to keep your muscles and median nerve from cramping.

    ♦ Wrist Flexor Stretch - A lot of dentists swear by this stretch. Start by extending your arm in front of you with the palm facing up. Now bend your wrist back while pointing your hand toward the floor. Use your other hand to bend your wrist farther until you feel the stretch, then hold for about 15-30 seconds. Repeat this 2-4 times with both arms.

    ♦ Rubber Stress Balls - We highly recommend you purchase a few rubber stress balls that you can squeeze and release every so often. This both strengthens your wrist while also working out the median nerve, so it stays a bit more pliant.

2 - Ergonomic Equipment

We understand the costs of running a dental practice, even in Canada, where the government is extremely friendly toward helping you get going.

However, when you select what tools to purchase for you and your team, spend the extra few dollars and get the highly ergonomic equipment.

This is going to save you so much time and money in the long run because it will encourage your team to use motions that do not place as much stress on the wrists as older tools.

3 - Improve Your Seating

There is a habit in dental offices around the world to use the same equipment you learned your profession on in Canada.

Keep in mind that most schools have to save costs and may not get the most advanced or ergonomic equipment.

Improving your seating not only helps your back by the end of the day but also encourages a health-conscious team that will increase the use of proper body movement.

This is a great way to protect yourself from the same motions that cause carpal tunnel syndrome.

4 - Take Breaks

Yes, your schedule will fill up quickly. Canadians are well aware of their dental care, and you can expect to have a fully booked day almost from the beginning of opening or joining a practice.

However, you need to be sure to schedule breaks between patients to rest your hands or do some exercises.

Do not think of this as time spent away from your patients, but as necessary habits that improve your overall ability to treat your patient’s needs.

Talk to your team and assistants and ask them to make sure you are taking an appropriate amount of breaks if you are like most dentists and end up being focused on getting through your schedule more than your personal health.

5 - Manage Your Overall Health

ITDs understand that oral health both impacts and is affected by the rest of the body. The same is true for carpal tunnel syndrome.

If you are obese, have diabetes, or are at risk of other health conditions, you may be putting yourself at greater risk of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Creating a healthy lifestyle with a balanced eating habit and getting in 20 minutes of exercise a day will help you stay fit for duty.

This does not have to be hitting the gym every single free moment. A simple 20-minute walk with your dog and partner will do the trick.

6 - Pay Attention to Your Back Office Work

Maybe you are a fantastic dentist who follows all of the advice in front of a patient, but the second you are behind closed doors doing computer work, you start to hunch your back and fall into poor keyboard/mouse movements.

Do not forget that the care of your wrists extends beyond the dental office.

You need to watch all of your other activities to be sure you are not adding to the problem by something completely unrelated.

7 - Keep Your Wrists Warm

Canada is pretty well known for having cooler temperatures, which can be a problem for carpal tunnel syndrome.

The colder your wrists and nerves are, the more likely stiffness will occur.

You need to have supple wrists and fingers to perform your dental work, and that requires wearing gloves and longer jackets to stay warm when out and about.

8 - Wear a Brace at Night

It may not be the sexiest bedroom accessory for your dating life, but wearing a brace or splint at night on your wrists will help them stay in a neutral position.

Even getting in a short session of an hour or so a day helps return your wrists to a state of rest. When you do take the braces off, be sure to move your wrists naturally at first to regain strength and flexibility.

9 - Stop Smoking

Canada does have a smoking population of around 4.6 million, or roughly 15.1%. As an ITD or dental student in Canada, you are more aware than others of the damage smoking can do to a human body.

This is also true for carpal tunnel syndrome. Smoking can interfere with the blood flow throughout your body.

This will make what symptoms you may already have much worse and slow down your recovery or prevention methods.

If you are smoking, now is a great time to buy a nicotine patch and quit the habit.

Where to Find More Information

We want to make sure all of your carpal tunnel syndrome questions are answered as you develop your ITD career in Canada.

There are two excellent online resources to learn more about prevention, diagnosing, and treatment for this common situation:

They should connect you with a healthcare provider that specializes in the care and treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome.

As always, we hope you have found this information valuable to your future work here in the beautiful country of Canada.

We do our best to provide as much knowledge and insider tips to ITDs as they make the transition to Canadian dentists.

Please do not overlook the risks of a diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome.

You are going to be using your wrists an awful lot and will be susceptible to this issue. Do your exercises and treat your body like a refined tool necessary for your career development.

If you do suspect that you may have developed symptoms, go see a doctor sooner than later.

This is a common ailment and can be easily mitigated the earlier it is addressed by a professional.

A simple appointment could make a significant difference in your ability to practice dentistry in the future.

Karen Nunez was born in Valenzuela, Philippines. She received her Doctor of Dental Medicine degree from Centro Escolar University in Manila.

Karen currently is a practicing oral health care professional based in Alberta, Canada; and runs a website where she writes a slew of articles to empower internationally trained dentists to integrate into Canadian dentistry.

Read more of her blogs here.

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