How-To, Ergonomics, Tips and Tricks

How Does Ergonomics Improve Productivity?

By Young Dental on January, 16 2024
How Does Ergonomics Improve Productivity?
Young Dental

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As a dental care provider, it's easy to become so focused on your patient's comfort that you may end up pushing your own health risks aside. Muscle pain and tension in the arms, hands, and back are quite common. The position of the body and arms mixed with repetitive tasks can cause pain. Ergonomics can not only help, but make your practice more efficient. 

What Is Ergonomics?

Ergonomics is more than wrist support or lumbar pillows. While many men have been credited with being the father of ergonomics, we know it dates back to at least 1949 when the first ergonomics textbook was published. The simple definition is that ergonomics is building the workplace around the safety and comfort of workers using individual techniques, like stretching, blended with equipment designed for optimal performance between humans and machines. 

Dr. Don Coburn is credited with bringing ergonomics into the dental field. A lot of developments have happened under "Coburn's Laws of Ergonomics" since 1969. Every tool you use now has an ergonomic adaption available, and the options keep developing, from an ergonomic dental chair to ergonomic instruments. Dental professionals need the right tools, but also need the training to use them correctly. 

In the spirit of ergonomics, release the tension in your jaw, relax your tongue, and roll your shoulders back. Move your device to eye level if you're craning your neck to read this. You've just ergonomically adjusted the task you're doing right now. 


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Does Ergonomics Improve Productivity?

Ergonomics improves productivity on several levels while also potentially extending the career of those in the dental profession. When ergonomic tools and training are implemented, we're not only creating a healthier environment for ourselves and our colleagues; we're building a happier workplace with lower rates of burnout. 

MORE: Six Things Every Dental Hygienist Should Stop Doing Right Now

Specific ways ergonomics can improve productivity include: 

•    Less reaching & stretching
•    Limiting repetitive motions
•    Improving posture
•    Limiting discomfort to increase focus

Why Should Ergonomics in Dentistry Be a Priority?

The next few decades will see an explosion in necessary dental care as all Baby Boomers will reach retirement age by 2030. With adults 65 and older facing some of the most challenging dental care issues and related health consequences, there's a growing need for a productive and dedicated workforce. 

On top of that, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates more than 16,000 openings each year in the dental hygienist profession. 

Taking action now to improve the ergonomics of the dental workplace pays dividends in employee satisfaction, patient comfort, and profitability for long-term success. 

Dental Hygienist Pain Points

Being in pain as a dental professional is not "part of the job." Ergonomics allows you to achieve the same goals without risking productivity.

•    Distorted Positions: Attaining the correct angles for dental work causes the head, eyes, neck, arms, and hands to be in extended awkward positions, adding strain to the lower back. 
•    Pressure: Holding tools at pinpoint precision while working around the spatial limitations of the oral space and maneuvering around the dentist's hands can impact muscles and blood flow. Some dated instrument materials aren't easy to hold for extended periods of time.
•    Repetitive Motions: Research shows dental hygienists can use up to 30 wrist movements in a minute during a procedure. Without ergonomic tools and positioning, this can lead to nerve compression and carpal tunnel syndrome. 
•    Vibrating Tools: Excessive exposure to vibrations can impact nerves and pain signals between the brain and appendages. 

You aren't alone in the fight against MSD. A 2020 study showed that 98.5% of respondents accrue at least one MSD issue in their careers. Nearly 87% experienced MSD discomfort in the past week. What starts as a slight discomfort can parlay into serious health conditions, with the most reported being: 

•    Rheumatism
•    Osteoarthritis
•    Carpal Tunnel
•    Bulging Discs
•    Tendonitis
•    Cervical/Thoracic/Lumber Spine Syndrome

How Ergonomic Tools Can Help

There are ergonomic tricks you can add to your workflow to help reduce MSD issues, but when complemented with an ergonomic workstation, everyone will be more relaxed, focused, and comfortable — including the patient! 

Let's dive into some key ergonomic improvement areas for your daily touchstones.

Ergonomic Workstation

Every movement matters for dental professionals, and setting up an ergonomic workstation will offer more flexibility and accessibility for the tools needed. The workstation can be designed and placed to reduce bending or stretching to get tools while accommodating different heights and spacing between the dental assistant and the dentist. Fewer repetitive movements and leaning in to get tools can reduce muscle fatigue and nerve pressure from the fingers all the way to the lower back. 

Ergonomic Chair for Patients

The patient chair should be ergonomically designed to allow dental professionals access without having to twist and bend to do their work. The chair should be spaced far enough away from cabinets or walls to allow the dental hygienist to move to the proper positions. Chairs should be adjustable for the patient's height when reclined but also adjust up and down to let the dental professional get close without knocking their knees into the chair or armrest.

Ergonomic Dental Stool

The right dental chair for the dentist, hygienists, and assistants can be specifically designed to support the lower back and abductors. This reduces overall discomfort and allows for better focus on the procedure, which benefits the patient and provider. 

Ergonomic Loupes

Using ergonomically crafted loupes reduces neck strain, much like looking at a mobile device at eye level reduces "text neck." When a dental hygienist can keep a neutral head position while still accessing cumbersome crevices, the tension in the neck and shoulders is reduced. 

Ergonomic Instrument

The American Dental Association describes several ways in which instruments feed into hand and finger pain that back up the need for ergonomic tools. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health warns about Vibration Syndrome from those, like dental professionals, who use vibrating tools for extended periods of time. A tool's texture, size, and mobility matter much more than you might think. You can also practice ergonomics in holding your instruments and find tools designed for smaller or larger hands. 

How Sharp Tools Help with Ergonomics

The literal leading edge of dental ergonomics is the sharpness and longevity of the tools themselves. XP® Sharpen-Free instruments benefit the practice in several ways. 

•    Eliminates the cumbersome task of sharpening tools. 
•    Patented XP technology allows for thinner tools that are still sharp. This gives easier access to hard-to-reach areas. 
•    Once the dental professional is trained to use the sharper tools, less pressure and fewer repetitive movements are needed. 
•    A lighter grip can be used with sharper tools, lowering hand and wrist fatigue.

Explore Ergonomics in Your Dental Office

Ergonomic adjustments can be taught, learned, and purchased to provide a better overall work environment and increase productivity in any dental location, even smaller offices or procedure rooms. Dental professionals will be able to alleviate pain and future muscle or spine issues while advocating for the longevity of the dental industry. Talk with your office manager today about incorporating ergonomics into your work environment. 




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