Context: Upper extremity musculoskeletal disorders are common among dental professionals. The natural history of these disorders is not well-understood. These disorders are more common in older workers, but the prevalence among younger workers has not been well-studied.
Objective: The objective of this study was to determine if dental/dental hygiene students had a similar prevalence of upper extremity musculoskeletal disorders compared to age-matched clerical workers. We hypothesize students will have a lower prevalence of upper extremity musculoskeletal disorders compared to clerical workers.
Design: This was a cross-sectional design.
Setting: Dental and dental hygiene students from three schools were compared to clerical workers from three locations (an insurance company and two data processing plants).
Subjects: There were 343 dental and dental hygiene students and 164 age-matched clerical workers.
Main outcome measures: Regional discomfort was the primary outcome. The secondary health outcomes were diagnoses of carpal tunnel syndrome and upper extremity tendinitis.
Results: Clerical workers had a higher prevalence of hand symptoms (62 percent vs. 20 percent), elbow symptoms (34 percent vs. 6 percent) and shoulder/neck symptoms (48 percent vs. 16 percent) and a higher prevalence of carpal tunnel syndrome (2.5 percent vs. .6 percent) and upper extremity tendinitis (12 percent vs. 5 percent). The clerical workers were more obese, smoked more, exercised less frequently, and had lower educational levels and less control of their work environment.
Conclusions: Dental and dental hygiene students have a very low prevalence of upper extremity musculoskeletal disorders. A longitudinal study is necessary to evaluate ergonomic and personal risk factors.