Dental and physical therapy faculty collaborate in assessing and educating dental students on musculoskeletal disorders

J Dent Educ. 2021 Jan;85(1):53-59. doi: 10.1002/jdd.12387. Epub 2020 Aug 24.


Introduction: Research shows 54% to 93% of practicing dentists suffer from musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), with many developing afflictions early in their careers. Studies also show that dental students are developing MSDs early in their professional education.

Objective: The research goal was to quantify the prevalence, anatomical location and initial onset of MSDs among first-year dental students. The study also assessed the students' self-reported opinion as to whether there were enough educational touchpoints to improve their ergonomics in daily activities.

Methods: At the conclusion of a 9-month preclinical restorative course, that included 2 lectures on MSDs, ergonomics, and postural cueing sessions, a dental and physical therapy faculty member administered a survey to 143 first-year dental students. This survey included questions about the history and presentation of the students' MSD symptoms and their opinion on the relative value of the educational interventions.

Results: There was a 96.5% response rate to the survey with 87.8% of students reporting mild to moderate pain. The cervical spine (41.7%) and hands (42.4%) were the most common areas afflicted. 55.4% reported pain commencing 1 month after starting in the simulation clinic. Over 60.9% of students "agreed" or "somewhat agreed" that the 2 sessions of hands-on ergonomic educational interventions resulted in improved biomechanics and students requested additional educational resources.

Conclusion: Dental students are developing MSDs as soon as 1 month after commencing dental school. Dental education should include ongoing ergonomic training throughout the curriculum to help students prevent MSDs.

Keywords: educational assessment; ergonomics; interprofessional relations; musculoskeletal disorders; postural cueing; preclinical dental education; teaching method.

MeSH terms

  • Ergonomics
  • Faculty
  • Humans
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases* / epidemiology
  • Occupational Diseases* / epidemiology
  • Occupational Diseases* / prevention & control
  • Physical Therapy Modalities
  • Students, Dental