Latrobe University has teamed up with the West Coast University for an international research project

GRIP IT: Ron Knevel and Michelle Hurlbutt demonstrating the correct grip to hold dental and oral hygiene equipment at Latrobe University Bendigo. Picture: ANTHONY PINDA
GRIP IT: Ron Knevel and Michelle Hurlbutt demonstrating the correct grip to hold dental and oral hygiene equipment at Latrobe University Bendigo. Picture: ANTHONY PINDA

A Bendigo academic from Latrobe University has teamed up with a dental hygiene dean from the West Coast University in the United States to conduct cross-continental research into how students grip oral and dental hygiene instruments.

Ron Knevel Bachelor of Oral Health Science course coordinator at Latrobe University and Michelle Hurlbutt dental hygiene dean at West Coast University said they have noticed students struggling to hold the required instruments correctly.

“Michelle has hypothesized that the way students are using technology, typing and using phones, it’s taking away their skills to write or hold a pen correctly,” Mr Knevel said.

“In oral health and dental hygiene we still use conventional instruments that must be held in a modified pen grasp.”

Ms Hurlbutt said she has seen some unusual grasps and believes it is because of the lack of emphasis on the importance of “penmanship”.

“We see it among the students that are now just entering university, the Millenials and Generation Z,  and we thought ‘maybe we need to investigate this’ and take some baseline readings on grip strength, finger pinch strength and tactile ability, and look at their grasp.”

“The really cool thing about the project is Ron and I will be working with our occupational therapy and physiotherapy colleagues to do some standardised tests.”

“I am very concerned to ensure my students aren’t becoming injured in school, everybody is constantly texting, my hypothesis is students are entering the program already with some musculoskeletal injuries.”

In oral health therapy and dental hygiene neck, shoulder, back, wrist and forearm are areas where professionals have been known to become incapacitated.

“We need to make sure as educators that we know where students are when they begin with us and make sure they’re not worse off when they finish,” Ms Hurlbutt said.

“Our plan is to look at the pen grasp as well as all the musculoskeletal positions at the beginning of the program, in the middle and then at the end.”

One of their main interests within the research project is to observe any differences between students in the United States and Australia.

“It’s wonderful to be able to perform interdisciplinary research across two continents, we don’t get the opportunity to conduct research such as this very often.”

The research project includes investigative surveys about any musculoskeletal injuries participants may have sustained and questions related to the students physical posture when using digital devices.

“Ron and I both want our students to succeed and thrive, that’s all part of what our research is about.”