Arthritis and Its Many Forms: How It Affects Dental Professionals

The number one cause of disability in America is arthritis, which afflicts over 50 million people. With a U.S. population of 320 million this means that 1 person in every 6 has arthritis. These large numbers could be due to the fact that there are over 100 different types of arthritis ranging from lupus to gout. In this post, we will look to focus on the three most prevalent types of arthritis: osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis. We will also discuss how they can affect your practice as a dentist, and how to approach a disability insurance claim for arthritis.

The Basics: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the arthritis that arises simply from the overuse of joints, and for this reason it is known as “wear and tear” arthritis. Symptoms include pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints after either overuse or long periods of inactivity. It is most commonly developed as people naturally age and their bodies reflect that age, but can also be found in professions with repetitive movements, such as dentistry.

Since OA is due to aging or the effects of repetitive motion, OA is often progressive. It is the most common form of arthritis, and treatment can range from added exercise and weight loss (where the main cause of the OA is obesity), to taking various pain relievers, and even surgery.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), on the other hand, is an autoimmune disease, and is three times more common in women than it is in men. The body’s immune system mistakenly attacks joints, which leads to inflammation that causes further damage. While the symptoms are similar to OA in that there is joint pain and swelling, rheumatoid arthritis also can bring about fevers, fatigue, and weight loss. The joint pain you may be experiencing is often symmetrical, meaning both sides of the body are affected, in RA.

Unfortunately, the causes of RA aren’t fully understood. Symptoms can start and stop, occasionally going into remission, but RA is usually progressive. Risk factors for RA include family history of the disease, smoking, periodontal disease, and microbes in the bowels. There is no cure for RA, and it is treated somewhat similarly to OA in that pain medication, increased exercise, and surgery can be used to try to alleviate symptoms.

Psoriatic Arthritis (PsA) is an inflammation of both the skin and joints. This form of arthritis affects people who have psoriasis, but only about 1/3 of people with psoriasis also contract arthritis. PsA has symptoms similar to RA in that there is joint pain and swelling as well as fevers, fatigue, and weight loss, but it is also preceded by the symptoms of psoriasis which include red, white and scaly patches of the skin and fingernail and toenail disorders.

Factors such as an injury to the skin, sunlight, bacterial infections and smoking may trigger psoriasis. The causes of PsA are unknown, but heredity, as well as a physical trauma or a viral or bacterial infection, may play a role. Similar to RA and OA, there is no cure for PsA, but it can be treated with exercises, medications, and hot and cold applications.

Arthritis and Dental Practice

Arthritis of any form can be debilitating for dentists, but in many cases, a dentist diagnosed with an arthritic condition could continue to work without filing a disability claim. However, it is important to recognize how your actions, such as decreasing work, continuing to work, and the way you document your condition, can influence the amount of benefits you are able to collect should you have to file for total disability.

Due to the progressive nature of all three of these types of arthritis, and the fact that the repetitive movements of dentistry can wear down protection between joints, it is often necessary for dentists with arthritis to decrease the amount of time at the office or the sorts of procedures that they perform. However, dentists should be mindful of how this reduction in work hours and activities will affect a potential disability insurance claim. Typically, one’s occupation at time that the claim is filed is the occupation that insurers will use to determine what benefits one will receive. If the practitioner has been decreasing work time and procedures performed, then he or she has effectively modified the occupation, and thus potentially the amount of benefits he or she can claim. While a dentist may not need to stop working immediately after being diagnosed with any form of arthritis, it is important to recognize when the symptoms are having a noticeable effect on one’s practice. In this situation, communicating with a doctor and potentially talking with a disability insurance lawyer are two important steps to take for the future of one’s practice and claim.

Another aspect of arthritis that can be frustrating for dental professionals is its ability to go into remission. A practitioner may be tempted to continue working through pain, especially if he or she seems to be in remission. Unfortunately, this may be the wrong move to make depending on the circumstances. While the condition may seem to be gone for the time being, the fact that it can start again puts patients at risk. If something were to happen to a patient, perhaps due to arthritic pain or stiffness that causes a dentist to drop an instrument, the practitioner could be sued for malpractice. It’s easy for a malpractice attorney to make the claim that the practitioner was aware of his or her arthritis and its progression, and that continuing to practice meant that he or she knowingly put the patient at risk. While the work ethic of doctors and dentists makes it difficult to simply stop working, it is essential both from a medical and legal standpoint to file for total disability once the arthritis has progressed to a point where it impinges on one’s ability to practice safely.

It is also imperative that a dentist diagnosed with arthritis keep thorough documentation of his or her condition. Since arthritis is progressive and also has the potential for remission, a dentist could continue working as long as his or her condition doesn’t have a major effect on the practice. However, having a doctor keep records of one’s arthritis and its progression is extremely important, especially since insurance companies will attempt to poke holes in one’s total disability claim. It can also be helpful for documentation of the condition to be coupled with communication with a disability insurance attorney, who can advise one on when and how to file a successful total disability claim, in the event that the arthritis no longer allows one to practice.


Due to its wide scope, and the nature of the disease, it’s not hard to think of a friend or family member that is afflicted with arthritis. Its commonness doesn’t make it any easier to deal with, and having a support system of family, friends, colleagues, and medical professionals is crucial to coping with the limitations and treatments of OA, RA, and PsA.

All of these conditions can impact more than just your personal health. It’s important to consider how arthritis will impact work, daily life, and finances. Being educated in what the next steps after diagnosis should be, including potentially filing a disability insurance claim, will help you to be prepared for any challenge that comes.

Read More:

Musculoskeletal Conditions in Dentistry: The Most Common Disability, The Most Difficult Disability Claim

A Question of Ethics:   When is it Time to File a Disability Insurance Claim?

Why Are Professionals’ Claims Targeted for Denial?


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