Lindsay Werremeyer, RDH, BAS
Lindsay has been practicing dental hygiene for over a decade in private practice and is a Clinical Representative for Young Innovations. Her passion is encouraging both her patients and colleagues to become the best versions of themselves they can be.
Ergonomics. That word. As a practicing dental hygienist of over 10 years, I used to almost scoff at this word.
Starting dentistry in my early 20s, this word meant very little to me. I knew what I was and wasn’t supposed to do for ergonomic safety (I mean, I’m pretty sure there was a test on it in hygiene school), but the moment I had a patient in a wheelchair or a patient who couldn’t lay back all the way, my body’s safety went out the window. This past summer, I had a very eye-opening experience that changed how I feel about ergonomics.
Spoiler alert – I care now! And deeply!
I woke up this past June with what felt like a crick in my neck. No biggie – this happens. However, it wouldn’t go away. I had a hard time turning my neck to the right, I had a headache up the right side of my head, and I had numbness down my right arm.
After finding out I wasn’t having a stroke and it wasn’t a brain tumor (what? Sometimes I overreact), I was finally referred to a physical therapist who told me the terrible news. This was caused by … my job! What?!
Enter heartbreak. Enter online searches for new careers. Enter ... ergonomics.
I had to seriously consider what I was going to do with my life. At 35, I have time to go back to school … but did I want to do that? With the help of physical therapy, the pain mostly went away, but ... will it be back? And then what?
This is where taking back my health (with ergonomics! And more!) became such a priority. I’m sure you know hygienists who have already become disabled from this career. If we try to protect ourselves, my hope for me (and you!) is that we can have a long, healthy, pain-free career!
Here are my tips for starting 2020 with better habits:
- Loupes. If you haven’t gotten your hands on loupes yet, you are seriously missing out! You can sit up straighter, see better and, if you get some with the light attached, you can stop reaching overhead. Also, you’ll wonder how you ever practiced decent dental hygiene care before. Seriously.
- Saddle chair. Have you tried one of these? They are ridiculous. You look and feel like you’re riding a horse. But by some voodoo in the chair design, they somehow make you sit upright. I’m currently using one with a lower back support that’s spring-loaded and helps prevent lower back pain. You’ll love it! Yee-haw!
- Sharpen-free instruments. Ya’ll. For reals. SHARPEN FREE. American Eagle Instruments have an excellent line of sharpen-free instruments (called XPs) that not only save you time because you NEVER sharpen them (do I even need to go on?), but they're so sharp, even your scaling is different! Goodbye forceful lateral strokes/tendonitis and hello light strokes with a light grasp. Your wrists will thank you!
- Better instrument handles. Speaking of instruments, are you aware the handle size of your instruments matter? Like, a lot? You should avoid heavy, skinny, smooth handles which cause more pinch force (the muscle cramp in your hand caused by gripping these poorly designed instruments). Instead, veer toward thicker, lighter handles with extra texture (knurling) which helps with control. Guess what? The sharpen-free XP instruments by American Eagle are some of the lightest instruments on the market. You’re welcome.
- Cordless handpieces. Are you dealing with heavy cords pulling on your wrist? If you haven’t made the switch to a cordless handpiece yet, it’s time to enter the 21st I personally enjoy the Infinity by Young Dental. Lightweight, easy to use and NO CORD! You can skip throughout the operatory with joy with the freedom you get in this guy (but ... we’re talking about safety. So maybe avoid skipping in tight spaces).
- How's your posture at work? Try to keep an eye on how you’re sitting. Are you in a neutral position? Are your arms at waist level? Are your elbows by your side or are you flapping them like a chicken? It can be helpful to have a co-worker watch you from time to time and give you feedback. They can even snap a picture for you (and bonus – you can use said picture for an Instagram post later. #workinhard #poorposture)
- Self-care. This one is my favorite. Make sure you’re taking time for you! Get regular massages, try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day (walk on your lunch breaks?), or try yoga. The more you move and take care of your body, the better you’ll feel.
- Are you working too much? A fabulous thing about our careers is that we can work as much or little as we want. Don’t burn yourself out! If you feel like you’re being asked to do too much in a hygiene appointment or if you feel like you’re just working too many days, it might be time to cut down or look for a new office. As Jim Rohn says, “If you don’t like how things are, change it! You’re not a tree.”
So there you have it. Just a few suggestions from a fellow hygienist who thought her career might be over at 35. In the new year ahead, I hope we all take a few extra steps to take better care of ourselves, not only for the longevity of our careers, but for the longevity of our health.