Common Impairments Amongst Dental Professionals

By Ray Bourhis and Alexander MacDougall

Many occupations come with certain risks which are unique to that profession and dentistry is no exception. In fact, dentists, and other dental specialists such as periodontists, orthodontists, and prosthodontists, may develop one of several different disabilities common within their profession. One of the most significant of these disabling conditions is severe pain in the back and neck. The cause, not surprisingly, usually has a great deal to do with the positions that dentists must maintain while working on their patients. These ergonomic injuries to the back and neck often occur as the result of years spent leaning or bending over patients while performing procedures and trying to maintain a direct line of vision into the patient’s mouth. The manifestation of these injuries usually comes in the form of a diagnosis of degenerative disc disease or herniations of the vertebrae.

Dental professionals are also susceptible to the nation’s most common cause of disability: arthritis. Arthritis may affect the hands as well as other joints such as the shoulders. While dexterity and hand strength are very important to nearly all dental professionals, full range of motion in the elbows and shoulders can also be necessary when performing extractions or prolonged procedures where the dentist is unable to rest. Arthritis comes in many different forms but is basically incurable and even with medications and therapies to treat the disease, it can still have a devastating effect on a dentist who relies upon being able to make precise and minute movements with strength and dexterity.

Another class of impairments common among dentists are injuries that affect the nervous system, specifically the nerves in the arms and hands. These impairments, whether caused or contributed to by the work environment, can manifest as the result of years of performing repetitive tasks, forceful exertions, vibrations, or sustained or awkward positions. The diagnosis for such conditions may include repetitive strain injury, carpal tunnel syndrome, or tendinitis and tendinosis. Often, with conditions such as these, the only chance of recovery is to undergo treatment and refrain from the actions that contributed to the onset of the condition. Even when some recovery is possible, it may still be necessary to take breaks often as the muscles and nerves that had been damaged will lack the endurance that they once had. Even if a dentist suffering from one of these impairments is able to continue working in this altered capacity, they are likely still eligible for Long-Term Disability (LTD) benefits.

It is always important to be aware of any pain that may be experienced while working. Pain is one indicator that there is a problem and ignoring it and working through the pain will often only allow the problem to become worse. Once a diagnosis has been made, one should consider what their prognosis is. If the injury is one that will not improve or will continue to deteriorate, it may be the time to consider filing a claim with your LTD insurance carrier. Remember, an insurance carrier cannot require someone to continue working in spite of physical pain and even when medications may control the pain if their side effects impair the claimant, they likely still have a good claim to receive their LTD benefits.