I have a confession to make. Please don’t judge me, but I have a type. You know how you tend to stick with people that are like you, places that you’ve been to, stuff you know? Not branching out of your comfort zone? Well, that's me!
I’m still clutching the same instruments I used in hygiene school over twenty-five years ago. Well, not the same ones but the same type of instrument. Missing out on entire families of instruments and innovations that could improve patient care and clinician well-being.
What was I thinking?
I know what I was thinking. I know how to use these instruments, where they go in the mouth, and how to sharpen them (well, actually, I don’t, but we’ll save that for another confession). How on Earth am I going to learn how to use a new instrument?
It’s funny, but you don’t often see courses on instrumentation. We take infection control updates, courses on periodontal disease, patient communication, all the extra stuff we should be cramming into our precious hygiene appointment, but rarely do you see a course that teaches us how to use a new instrument. And as a consummate perfectionist, I wasn’t all that comfortable “trying it out” during a patient visit.
Unfortunately, with that line of thinking, instead of saving myself the embarrassment of admitting there was something I didn’t know, I was missing out on innovations that could help me improve my effectiveness, be more efficient, and save my ergonomics!
The science of instrument design has come a long way. There are instruments with longer shanks to reach further back. Or with a shorter thinner working end to go into that deeper tight pocket. They make titanium ones that are safe for implants, so we don’t have to use that plastic thing anymore (could anyone make that work?). Using the right instrument for the situation will help you be more effective with your instrumentation. While a universal instrument is great, it won’t reach everywhere in everyone’s mouth. No matter how much you love it.
Getting to know new instruments could help you save time. They even make combo instruments now. The Double Gracey line by American Eagle combines two or more Graceys into one! So less switching out of instruments on the bracket tray equals improved efficiency and fewer instruments to buy (I think I heard your dentist cheer here). Did you know instruments come in a variety of strengths? There are standard and rigid. These are designed to be used in different situations. Rigid is great for heavy calculus, while flexible thinner shanks are great for fine deposits, increasing tactile sensitivity. Using a rigid instrument to scale that ten-year-old wall of calculus could save you some serious time and hand fatigue.
Speaking of hand fatigue, many new instrument designs have lighter wider resin handles, saving our poor weary hands from such tiny grip. There is even sharpen-free technology that not only eliminates the need for sharpening (can I get a hallelujah) but lessens the pinch force needed. American Eagle XP technology uses a patented process that hardens and encapsulates the tip, remaining sharp but requiring a modified scaling technique. Instead of popping off deposits, you gently shave them much like an ultrasonic scaler technique making for happy hands at the end of the day.
We, hygienists, are learners but also creatures of habit. Challenging ourselves to look beyond our type could be just the trick to elevate the care we are offering patients and take care of ourselves as well.