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Injuries to dental and medical assistants

It's usually the patients that are more intimidated to step into a doctor's office or dental practice, but the workers who are employed at these facilities actually face a wide variety of risks on a daily basis. Given the nature of their work, dental hygienists and medical assistants are prone to suffering from many different types of work-related injuries, some of which can be life-altering and severe. 

Medical assistants, dental hygienists and other workers who interact directly with patients within a clinical setting should be aware of the occupational hazards within their own work place, and should work with their employers in order to minimize risks and subsequent injuries.

Common risks that are present in a clinical setting

There are many work place hazards present in a clinical setting. According to the Dental Research Journal, dentistry is a particularly hazardous industry to work: "Dental professionals are predisposed to a number of occupational hazards ... Continuous educating and appropriate intervention studies are needed to reduce the complication of these hazards. So, it is important for dentists to remain constantly up-to-date about measures on how to deal with newer strategies and dental materials, and implicates the need for special medical care for this professional group."

These same hazards often extend beyond the walls of dental offices, and exist in other clinical settings as well. Common risks in a clinical setting include:

  • Risk of infection — Dental hygienists and medical assistants must work directly with patients regularly, which exposes them to biohazards and can lead to various types of infections.
  • Mercury exposure — Professionals in these industries  can be exposed to mercury, and mercury exposure in high doses can lead to health complications.
  • Radiation exposure — Those who operate X-ray equipment may be inadvertently exposed to dangerous radiation, which can have both minor and severe impacts on an individual depending on the level of exposure.
  • Injury during procedures — Medical assistants and dental hygienists are required to use equipment in order to treat patients, but improper use of this equipment can lead to injuries, including abrasions and lacerations.
  • Stress-related injuries — The mental toll of caring for other patients can be wearing, leading hygienists and medical assistants to suffer from stress-related injuries.
  • Ergonomic injuries — These assistants spend a significant amount of time standing and working with patients, which can lead to neck, back, leg and arm injuries. 

Safety tips for dental hygienists and medical assistants

Dental hygienists and medical assistants can stay safe while working by following these simple tips:

  • Actively work to implement all safety measures that have been put in place by those in charge within the facility. 
  • Wear all safety equipment, including gloves, masks and other protective gear that reduce the risk of infection and injury while working in a clinical setting.
  • Report any occupational hazards to management promptly, so that these hazards can be addressed prior to an injury taking place.

In addition, physicians, dentists and clinical office managers also must work to improve the safety of the work place on a regular basis. Training should be offered to employees, which can help them better identify potential risks as well as make a conscious effort to minimize illness and injury within the work place. Employers also should provide medical assistants and dental hygienists with any safety equipment that they may need.

Next step: compensation for work-related injuries

In the event of an injury, a dental hygienist or medical assistant should seek treatment as quickly as possible in order to minimize the impact of the injury and reduce the risk of complications. If their injury prevents them from working for a significant period of time, or results in excessive health care costs, they should partner with a lawyer in order to make sure that they get the worker's compensation package that they both need and deserve.

Denver professionals who work in medical offices, clinics and dental practices should contact an experienced attorney in order to file for worker's compensation. A qualified attorney will make sure that these professionals get the compensation that they need to rest and recover before returning to work. 

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