After career-ending work injuries, dental hygienist turns to researching the problem

A P.E.I. dental hygienist who had to stop practising because of repetitive strain injuries is now researching just how common the problem is.

4 surgeries couldn't fix Marilyn Harris's repetitive strain injuries

Marilyn Harris hopes her work will help prevent what happened to her from happening to other dental hygienists. (Dalhousie University)

A P.E.I. dental hygienist who had to stop practising because of repetitive strain injuries is now researching just how common the problem is and coming up with strategies to prevent it.

Marilyn Harris practised for eight years, but had to stop in 2015 because of carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis, which four surgeries couldn't fix.

She went back to Dalhousie University to get her bachelor's degree in dental hygiene, focusing on occupational injuries and workplace safety.

"I'm not pointing fingers at any organization or any business, but I think as a whole we all could do more," said Harris.

"As dental hygienists we could self-advocate for ourselves and say, 'You know what, I know I'm 10 minutes behind, but I'm going to take that five minutes and I'm going to do a quick stretch,' or go and just have a breather."

Collaboration with occupational therapy students

Harris and her research partner received survey responses from more than 600 members of the Canadian Dental Hygienists Association. Eighty-three per cent said they have experienced some form of an injury, and over 60 per cent of those have been practicing for fewer than 10 years.

She also arranged for graduate students from Dalhousie's occupational therapy program to assess the first year dental hygiene students as they did their clinical work. 

"They took pictures and made notes and they actually came back and did a session where they taught the class, the dental hygiene students, different things they can do to improve their workspace, or their own postures, or to self-assess for those ergonomic issues," said Harris. 

"Like are you sitting up straight? Maybe preventing injuries in the future." 

Harris and her partner have been asked to present their findings at a national conference in October.

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With files from Island Morning


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