Dental Tribune Nordic

Study determines work-related factors that keep oral health providers well

By Franziska Beier, Dental Tribune International
May 24, 2021

LINKÖPING, Sweden: Research focusing on factors that are associated with the well-being and healthy and meaningful working life of oral healthcare providers is scarce. Researchers from various health bodies in Sweden have conducted a study that aims at analysing which oral healthcare providers remain healthy at work and which organisational, work-related and health-related factors contribute to this.

A total of 486 dentists, dental hygienists and dental nurses from Swedish dental clinics participated in a questionnaire in 2012 and 2014 that featured questions about demographics, health indicators, and work and organisational factors. Oral health providers with no sick leave or sickness presenteeism were questioned about their perceptions of leadership, support at work, working conditions, job control, job demands, working ability and health. Their answers were then compared with results from oral health providers who reported sickness absence and/or sickness presenteeism.

For data analysis, the participants were classified into three groups: healthy group, semi-healthy group and unhealthy group. Respondents were classified as healthy if they had not reported sick leave or sickness presence in 2012 or 2014. The three groups showed no significant differences in terms of sex, age, professional category, clinic size, number of years in the dental service or working hours per week.

The researchers determined that factors that made it more likely to belong to the healthy group were: good physical work ability, the absence of pain in the neck, wrists, hands and lower back, no musculoskeletal symptoms in the shoulders, perceived low exertion at the end of the working day, and the absence of sleep problems.

Dr Charlotte Wåhlin. (Image: Charlotte Wåhlin)

Dental Tribune International contacted lead author Dr Charlotte Wåhlin, adjunct senior lecturer at the Department of Health, Medicine and Caring Sciences at Linköping University, to ask her what consequences should follow the study findings. She replied: “Our message is that it is possible to organise work in such a way that prevents injuries. Employers and employees need to get engaged in systematic work environment management, identify the risks and have a plan on how to handle them. Employers should ask each employee what can be done for him or her to promote health at work. Our results from the study show that employees have different needs and their health clearly varies.”

Wåhlin has worked as an ergonomist and occupational health and safety consultant at an occupational health service in Sweden. She said she had become interested in the work environment of dental professionals and that she “provided education to dental professionals on preventive work measures as well as assisted those employees returning to work who were absent because of sick leave”.

When asked whether the ergonomic aspect of the dental profession—especially in times of SARS-CoV-2 in which the majority of people are concerned about a viral infection rather than physical harm—is too often neglected, she said that dental professionals could certainly become more involved in preventive interventions. “However, we need to evaluate both physical and mental exposure at the same time to see the whole picture, including factors affecting the individual, the group as a whole and the importance of leadership. My impression is that the dental profession has more acute patients in times of SARS-CoV-2 and that this can really affect the work exposure negatively,” she emphasised.

Wåhlin recommends that dental professionals use ergonomic exercises in the daily practice to prevent work-related disorders. “Try to bring in more physical and mental variation during your working day. Stand up when you write medical records, use ergonomic work equipment, for example prism glasses and good ergonomically designed chairs. Also, test different instruments and use different grips, angle your neck by pulling your chin in to reduce strain on your neck, and instead of bending your back, try to fold from your hip.”

She added: “It is also important to angle the patient’s head instead of your own and to dare to fold the dental chair far back. Other helpful tips are to take walking meetings and to schedule administrative tasks for the middle of the day. Talk with each other, collaborate to create variation in your work tasks!”

The study authors concluded: “Understanding the relationship between working conditions and well-being is crucial to being able to design specific interventions for oral healthcare providers which will improve their working conditions and health. We suggest that future intervention studies should focus on how workplace resources influence employee health and well-being.”

The study, titled “Work and health characteristics of oral health providers who stay healthy at work—a prospective study in public dentistry”, was published online on 6 April 2021 in the European Journal of Physiotherapy, ahead of inclusion in an issue.

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