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Study encourages education and support for undergraduate dental students with neck and back pain issues to help prevent problems later in their careers

Posted on 09/09/2016

A new paper from King’s College London highlights a risk of neck and back pain for undergraduate dental students and encourages education and support in self-care to prevent problems later in life. While dentistry is considered to be one of the highest risk professions for developing problems in the neck and back areas, limited data has previously existed on whether this is an issue for dental students as well.

The study led by the Dental Institute at King’s, published in the British Dental Journal, aimed to determine the prevalence, distribution and impact of the symptoms of musculoskeletal pain amongst current undergraduate dental students in order to raise awareness of the issue, and build more coping strategies into the curriculum in order to prevent issues later in their careers.

Dentistry demands prolonged static positions, and movements are limited to the hand and wrist. The cumulative physiological damage to clinicians has been shown to contribute considerably to reduced productivity, increased absence and even some leaving the profession. Whether or not practises that lead to musculoskeletal damage starts while dentists are in training, and if this could be prevented at this early stage, has never been assessed previously.

Wanting to collect data on this important issue, the study assessed 390 dental students during each year of their BDS programme, quantifying their experience of upper back, lower back and neck pain. The authors found that neck and back pain constituted a major problem in the daily lives of the undergraduate dental students surveyed.

Seventy-nine percent of those surveyed experienced pain with 42% experiencing pain for 30 or more days in the past year. Lower back pain was most common (54%) and was most frequently the worst area of pain (48%). Thirty-six percent reported pain lasting at least four hours. Daily stretching was used by 56% of respondents. Eighteen percent sought professional help to manage pain.

The findings suggest that education and support in self-care in this regard may be an important and valuable addition to the curriculum to improve the health of dental students, and could have benefits in managing current issues, as well as in preventing problems later in life.

“Chronic neck and back pain is a known problem among dental personnel, to the extent that some eventually have to stop clinical work. It is essential dental schools are aware of this and are taking measures to educate and support those oral healthcare workers in training, at the very beginning of their career. This is an issue we take very seriously at King’s College London,” explains Professor Mark Woolford, Dean of Education at the Dental Institute.

Lead author on the study, Dr Mark Ide has also trialled having a Personal Trainer spend a day with a group of his senior students. The PT educated them on exercises and coping strategies to help improve their posture in the short term, and provided them with exercises to develop core strength and deal with overactive muscles areas with fascial tightening and restriction. Dr Ide would like to see these types of educational techniques incorporated into the dental students’ curriculum in the future as visible improvements in the students’ posture were observed within a day, confirming that intervention was a feasible option for students.

The use of dental magnifying glasses or loupes can also help prevent neck and back pain. The Dental Institute at King’s has worked with students and various companies to encourage more widespread use of loupes, to not only improve posture but also provide further training in high quality operative care, although such equipment can be expensive for students. “Ideally we would wish to mandate that students do all their clinical activity with magnification as this benefits both patient and student, but the cost issues need to be addressed,” explains Dr Ide.

“We have seen a good uptake of loupes use and overall improved postural awareness of students when delivering care to patients. However I would wish to develop this further and embed self-care into the undergraduate training programme from the beginning through to the end. Such interventions do need, however, to be evidence based and I am now working with colleagues at the British School of Osteopathy to look at the efficacy of some self-care techniques to help alleviate these problems.”



‘Musculoskeletal neck and back pain in undergraduate dental students at a UK dental school – a cross-sectional study’ by Vijay and Ide is published in the British Dental Journal and can be accessed online here:


Notes to editors

For more information on the Dental Institute at King’s College London please contact Laura Shepherd, Senior Communications Officer on +44 (0) 207 118 1163 or


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