Background: Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) represent an important occupational health issue in dentistry. Given the significance of this topic, we considered it necessary to investigate the prevalence and impact of MSD among Australian dentists.
Methods: In 2004, a self-reporting questionnaire was mailed to a random sample of 400 dentists registered with the Queensland Branch of the Australian Dental Association.
Results: A total of 285 questionnaires (73.1 per cent) were completed and returned. Of the respondents, 73.3 per cent were male and 26.7 per cent female, with a mean age of 45.2 years (SD = 11.9 years). Most were general dentists (89.1 per cent), with the remainder being specialists (10.9 per cent). Most dentists (87.2 per cent) reported having experienced at least one MSD symptom in the past 12 months. The most prevalent MSD during the previous 12 months were reported at the neck (57.5 per cent), lower back (53.7 per cent) and shoulder (53.3 per cent). MSD which interfered with daily activities during the previous 12 months were reported at the neck (24.6 per cent), the lower back (22.1 per cent) and the shoulders (21.8 per cent). Over one-third (37.5 per cent) of dentists had sought medical advice or treatment for an MSD during the previous 12-month period. Almost 1 in 10 dentists (9.1 per cent) reported taking leave in the previous 12 months because of an MSD. Among those who took sick leave for an MSD, the mean time taken was 11.5 days (SD = 16.0 days).
Conclusions: Overall, this study suggests that MSD represents a major occupational health issue for Queensland dentists, the occurrence of which is similar to reports from other countries. MSD was shown to interfere with daily activities in some cases, while a considerable proportion of dentists had also sought medical attention for their symptoms. Further research is now needed to more carefully elucidate the impact of MSD in this particular occupational group, especially in relation to cessation or reduction of clinical practice, and also to help identify specific risk factors and effective measures for reducing MSD among dentists in Queensland and elsewhere.