You did it! You found yourself working in a profession that you love! Congratulations! Welcome to the journey of extreme satisfaction and the possibility of pain and suffering you never knew existed.
I started my dental career early. Wanting to be a dentist was a lifelong dream. My father encouraged my dream by negotiating my “labor for experience” with a local Greek dentist and family friend. I was thrilled … but anxiousness and excitement quickly turned into the worst pain in the neck, literally.
My first day was, let’s say, kind and gentle: learning where things belonged, memorizing the names of my teammates and observing procedures and protocols, easy peasy. The following day I was able to sit in the assistant’s chair! I was elated, a full day of assisting the doctor and learning on the job – it was awesome until I got home. My endorphin high quickly wore off and I ran to the shower and began rubbing sore and cramped muscles I never knew existed. I remember saying “I’ll never make it to becoming a dentist at this rate!” I was 15.
Fast forward, I have studied so much in being proactive to being preventive and investing in tools and techniques to ensure my longevity in the profession I still love. I’m here and ready to share what I have learned so together we can implement how to take the pain out of our daily repetitive actions.
First let’s address the obvious. We are not taught dental ergonomics in an effective manner in school; we sit in chairs that have existed from the Stone Age and have resorted to adjusting ourselves versus adjusting the situation ergonomically in order to get the task done.
Long hours in awkward positions, leaning over patients, added to high amounts of stress result in a large number of repetitive strain injuries. Stress to the low back, neck, arms and diminished muscle strength affects your body until you become fatigued and a negative cycle emerges where you slouch and strain even more.
Consider these findings from a national dental hygiene survey published in 2012. Of the 1,210 respondents:
- 51% reported one or more injuries to their neck, shoulders, or mid to upper back areas
- 53.1% took OTC pain relievers
- 14% took prescription pain meds to get relief
- 38% of them had to reduce their work hours!
Reduced work hours? What would that mean to you? Some of us will sacrifice our bodies to work in pain to make a paycheck. Some of us will work with diminished muscle strength, therefore rendering sub-optimal care and perpetuating damage. Some may find themselves out of employment due to maximizing sick days.
Still thinking that working ergonomically is not worth its weight in gold?
A proper chair is a good starting point. Traditional operatory chairs offer little to no support and contribute to injury. Find a chair that allows back height and angle adjustments, adjustable armrests and adjustable tilt tension to fit your height, weight and stature. The optimal position should be dental neutral, meaning that the chair supports proper center of balance and maintains spinal alignment, with your knees slightly lower than your hips and your feet firmly planted on the floor shoulder width apart in front of your hips. The chair should allow you to change positions often and remain supported.
Saddle seating is new to most of the offices I consult with. Saddle seating improves leg circulation and reduces fatigue from an unstable center of balance. More often, the dental hygienist is the first in the office to get a saddle stool and when the rest of the team notices that s/he is joyful, more productive and without pain, they immediately want their own.
There are several companies selling stools, so do your research and invest in the stool that fits you best. Some facts to consider:
Not all seats are created equal. You do not want another pancake seat! Is the seat size small enough to allow you to sit closer to the patient?
What material is used on the seat? My stool is made with silver ion technology that renders it safe against odor and stain causing bacteria. Look for the most advanced technology integrated into seat materials, from the multiple layers of foam to the craftsmanship that is used to eliminate unhealthy pressure on the hips.
Does it provide improved stability and balance without the fear of falling over? Can it be adjusted to different heights easily? Does it enhance support as you move about the operatory? Do the casters glide across the carpet or floor easily?
Where is the stool manufactured? This is where your investment skills take over your frugal mind. (Save frugality for cotton rolls and paper products.)
When you do your homework and your ergonomic goals with your representative, you will be happy with the ability to continue to care for patients in a more comfortable and productive manner for a very, very long time.
Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” So why not start now?