Becoming a Dental Athlete: Promoting Wellness for Long-Term Career Success

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With how physically demanding dentistry can be, it is important to take good care of yourself for long-term success and happiness.

Dentistry is a demanding profession that can take a toll on the body, with up to 96% of dental professionals experiencing pain during their careers.¹ One of the most common health issues faced by dental professionals is musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), which can lead to acute and chronic pain, and even disability.² MSDs affect the musculoskeletal system, including bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints, causing discomfort and impairing movement. According to OSHA, factors such as awkward positioning, contact stress, repetition, vibration, and force/grip can increase the likelihood of MSDs, therefore making dental professionals particularly vulnerable to these injuries.³

While it is impossible to eliminate all risk factors, steps can be taken to minimize their impact. Consider dental professionals as "dental athletes.” Katrina Klein, RDH, personal trainer, ergonomics specialist, and founder of ErgoFit Life, who coined this term says that just as professional athletes must prepare themselves for game day, dental professionals must do the same. By adopting a holistic, individualized approach to wellness, dental professionals can reduce the risk of injury, while creating the foundation for a long-lasting, healthy career.

Preparing for Game Day

The first step towards becoming a dental athlete is the preparation for game day. Most dental professionals practice in a seated, and oftentimes awkward position. The human body wasn’t designed to sit for extended periods of time. In fact, sitting for long periods of time is linked with numerous health concerns, including back pain, diabetes, and heart disease.⁴ Sitting forces the body into a dangerous position for the spine and the supporting muscles. It forces certain musclesof the body to overcompensate, while others become underutilized–in both instances, the muscles can become weak over time, and lead to an imbalance in the musculoskeletal system.

One way dental professionals can prepare for work is by focusing on rebalancing the body from sitting and awkward positioning. This can be achieved through a variety of methods such as yoga therapy, strength training, stretches, Pilates, or traditional yoga. Practicing these activities can help to create stabilization throughout the muscles and joints while also stretching and releasing tension from tight, overworked muscles. Yoga has been shown to help reduce back pain.⁵ Regularly incorporating practices that help the body stay strong and mobile reduces the risk of injury and pain and sets the stage for a long-lasting career.

Showing Up on Game Day

In addition to preparing the body for work, there are also small actions that dental professionals can take while in the office to minimize the risk of injury. Incorporating chairside stretching into the workday is a simple way to reduce tension, improve circulation, and help the body stay in balance. Clinicians can easily weave in micro-stretch breaks between patients, during lunch, or even reading chart notes. This small action done regularly creates massive results long term.


Practitioners can also focus on their posture throughout the day, making small adjustments to their body positioning regularly. When we maintain a neutral posture, in and out of the office, we set ourselves up for better ergonomics and reduce the risk of MSDs.⁶ An ideal seated posture involves aligning the head, ears, shoulders, torso, spine, hips, and legs. Ideally, the shoulders are relaxed, elbows in towards the sides of the body, and the hips are higher than the knees. Practitioners can adjust their posture throughout the day, even during their morning commute, while seeing patients, or waiting in line at Starbucks. By focusing on postural alignment, the foundation for better ergonomics is achieved.

The goal of ergonomics is to prevent soft tissue injuries and musculoskeletal disorders caused by sudden or sustained exposure to force, vibration, repetitive motion, and awkward posture.³ There are many ways to improve ergonomics, including proper practitioner and patient positioning, effective and efficient use of workspace, and accessibility to equipment, as well as the tools and equipment we use. All of these can either add to or reduce strain on the body. Our goal with ergonomics is to make the body work less while being more productive and efficient. In the dental office, ergonomics is extremely multi-faceted. Continuing to practice proper ergonomics is one of the core components of becoming a dental athlete.

Another important aspect of wellness for dental professionals is stress management. Stress is a common issue in dentistry, and the effects of stress can contribute to a host of health issues.⁷ Practicing stress management techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, and yoga can help dental professionals manage stress and reduce the risk of injury.

Recovering from Game Day

Finally, dental professionals should prioritize self-care and rest. Taking time for self-care activities such as yoga, hot baths, massage, acupuncture, or chiropractic care can help to reduce tension and prevent injury. Additionally, getting enough rest is crucial for overall health and wellness.⁸ Rest allows the body to repair and rejuvenate, and getting enough sleep may help to reduce the risk of injury and improve overall well-being.

Becoming a dental athlete requires a multi-faceted approach that is unique to each individual. Dental professionals must understand that prioritizing their mental and physical well-being is non-negotiable. By focusing on rebalancing the body, incorporating chairside stretching, maintaining good posture, managing stress, and prioritizing self-care and rest, dental professionals can reduce the risk of injury and pain, and create a foundation for a long-lasting career in dentistry. By adopting a holistic approach such as this, dental professionals can become their best selves both in and out of the office.


  1. Lietz J, Kozak A, Nienhaus A. Prevalence and occupational risk factors of musculoskeletal diseases and pain among dental professionals in Western countries: A systematic literature review and meta-analysis. PLoS One. 2018;13(12):e0208628. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0208628
  2. Kumar M, Pai KM, Vineetha R. Occupation-related musculoskeletal disorders among dental professionals. Med Pharm Rep. 2020;93(4):405-409. doi:10.15386/mpr-1581
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  4. Harvard Healthy Publishing. The Dangers of Sitting. May, 23, 2019. Accessed February 20, 2023.
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