Purpose: Recent research indicates a growing presence of hand problems and carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) in dental professionals, especially among dental hygienists. This study was designed to determine the prevalence of hand problems and CTS among dental hygienists and identify risk factors for these conditions.
Methods: As part of a study that surveyed more than 5,000 army dental personnel, 177 dental hygienists were analyzed in great detail. Because of the magnitude of the overall study, which included all types of dental professionals, it was not only possible to identify the prevalence and risk factors of hand problems and CTS affecting dental hygienists, but also the prevalence rates as compared to other dental personnel.
Results: While the overall response rate for all dental personnel was 81%, dental hygienists responded at nearly 92%. Seventy-five percent of dental hygienists reported having hand problems, and 56% exhibited probable or classic symptoms of CTS. By logistic regression, the data revealed that dental hygienists whose practice comprised a majority (> 50%) of patients with heavy calculus were 2.3 times more likely to develop hand problems than those treating fewer patients with heavy calculus. Those who had practiced more than 10 years were also 1.9 times more likely to manifest symptoms associated with CTS than those with fewer years in the profession.
Conclusion: The prevalence of hand problems and CTS among dental hygienists was the highest among army dental personnel, with the exception of dental therapy assistants. Risk factors for both hand problems and CTS are multifactorial, and dental hygienists should be particularly aware of those factors that can be prevented.