Impact of operator positioning on musculoskeletal disorders and work habits among Mississippi dental hygienists




Barry, Rebecca M.
Spolarich, Ann E.
Weber, Mark
Krause, Denise
Woodall, William D.
Bailey, Jessica H.

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American Dental Hygienists Association


Purpose: The purpose of this study was to assess impact of operator positioning on the development of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and workforce issues among practicing dental hygienists in the state of Mississippi.

Methods: The sample consisted of all dental hygienists (n=1,553) licensed in the state of Mississippi. A modified 47 item, online version of the Standardized Nordic Questionnaire was used to document the following: types of MSDs, practice history, operator positioning, ergonomic work habits and the impact of MSDs on workforce issues. Descriptive statistics were used to analyze practice history and work habits. Chi-square analysis examined the relationship between operator positioning and MSDs as well as the relationship between the onset of MSDs and their impact on patient workload, work hours, time off from work, and ability to practice clinical dental hygiene. Survival analyses were used to test the onset of MSDs in relationship to operator positioning.

Results: The survey yielded a 22% (n=338) response rate. There was no significant difference in the prevalence of MSDs between those sitting in front of the patient as compared to those sitting behind the patient (PL) (χ2 (1) = 1.67, p=0.196), although respondents sitting behind the patient reported developing their MSDs earlier (χ2 (1) = 3.92, p=0.048). Of the participants who had practiced 15 or more years, 85% reported developing MSDs. However, only 13% reported ever having to modify their patient load. Sixteen percent reported reducing work hours and 21% reported taking time off from work due to MSDs.

Conclusions: Regardless of the operator position used, the majority of practicing dental hygienists surveyed developed MSDs earlier than has been previously reported in the literature. Workforce related issues were not shown to have a negative impact on this study population.


Article originally published in Journal of Dental Hygiene : JDH, 91(6), 6–14. English. Published Online 2017.
Permission to deposit this file was given through direct contact with the publisher. For more information please see the faculty member's entry in Project INDEX -- EDH 7/7/23


Clinical education, Dental hygiene workforce, Ergonomics, Musculoskeletal disorders, Operator positioning.


This is the published version of an article that is available at Recommended citation: Barry, R. M., Spolarich, A. E., Weber, M., Krause, D., Woodall, W. D., & Bailey, J. H. (2017). Impact of operator positioning on musculoskeletal disorders and work habits among Mississippi dental hygienists. Journal of Dental Hygiene : JDH, 91(6), 6–14. This item has been deposited in with the author’s permission and in the absence of publisher policies.