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How Proper ‘Pandemic Ergonomics’ Improves Dental Clinician & Patient Experiences


The nature of dental work leaves everyone, whether patient or practitioner, more vulnerable to inhaling airborne particles, bacteria, and germs.  And during the age of COVID-19, this reality puts a lot of weight on the shoulders of dental practices – financially and emotionally.

You need your patients to feel safe in a time when their anxiety is sky-high about COVID-19. Soothing these anxieties will require heightened focus and efficiency.

In fact, the ADA has suggested hand instrumentation for dental practices to protect patients from aerosols.

However, hand instrumentation takes longer than ultrasonic scaling, meaning more hours spent in the chair, putting further strain on your musculoskeletal structure. Also, filling in for colleagues, given COVID-related challenges (e.g., schools shutting down, getting sick), has led to increased time at work and a heightened toll on your body.

The current landscape might seem like a lot to contend with, but the answer lies in one word: ergonomics.


Sharpened Instruments are Half the Battle

A shift to hand instruments requires some adjustments, the first being the need to sharpen them.

Frequently sharpening your hand instrument prevents you from the following ergonomic pitfalls:

  • Gripping too tight
  • Using more lateral pressure
  • Maneuvering your wrist away from a neutral position


Avoiding these stresses protects your body from breaking down during extended hours on the chair.

We’ll first point out that sound ergonomics are beneficial for your mental health because they prevent chronic pain, a significant contributor to depression.

But the benefits of sharpened instruments also impact the patient experience. When your ergonomics are sound, patients will benefit by receiving care from a happier, healthier, more alert provider.

Still, the real difference-maker is the time you’ll save. Think about it. COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on your patients’ mental health. Nowadays, when you take too long between patients, those waiting too long would prefer bailing on their appointment than sitting around any longer.

Whereas sharpened instruments speed up time between patients, reducing the anxieties stemming from being in a place of business during COVID.


A Deeper Dive into Ergonomics in Dentistry

More than 60% of dentists claim to suffer some type of musculoskeletal ailment throughout their careers. Back pain, shoulder pain, and hand/wrist pain were frequently cited as recurring issues.

The bulk of these musculoskeletal conditions stem from practitioners using awkward and overstrained back postures while treating patients.

Plus, the repetitive movements in dentistry that impact the shoulders and neck are conducive to these disorders.

Long story short, the dental industry isn’t easy on your body at the best of times. But for the foreseeable future, due to COVID, it could be even more punishing with the prevalence of hand instrumentation and extended hours.


Exploring Sound Ergonomics for Dental Professionals

Your primary weapon against chronic musculoskeletal disorders is mindfulness of placing too much strain on your back, shoulders, neck, and remaining core muscles. This stress results from a hunched-over posture that bends your upper spine into a kyphosis (or rounded upper back).

Of course, it’s tough to avoid a kyphotic position in dentistry, but you can take some practical, preventative measures.

Not sure where to begin?

Then start by setting aside 15-20 minutes to stretch and relax between patients. During this time, perform stretches that open up your chest while extending your neck and back.


Ergonomic Equipment to Use

You’ll reduce lots of neck and shoulder stress by using a double articulating headrest. Just ensure that you cushion the headrest for patient comfort.

Furthermore, work with an appropriately sized chair so you’re close enough to your patient’s mouth to do your work. Too small a chair will make you lean too far forward, causing awkwardness in your posture, leading to the chronic muscle problems we’ve discussed.

A loupe will ensure you don’t sit on the edge of your seat to see better. Heat-mounted lights are a good alternative when your overhead light casts too many shadows or is too dim.


Your Ideal Posture When Treating Patients: a Point-Form Breakdown

  • Your spine must be neutral and erect. Don’t lean over the patient or bend forward.
  • Move your seat as close to the patient as is possible. This prevents both your arms and back from overextending.
  • Your feet should be flat on the floor or on your footrest. Adjust your seat (whether stool or chair) so your thighs slope downward slightly. Always sit for clinical procedures. Don’t stand.
  • Wrists should be held in a neutral position to limit wrist movement.
  • Keep a relaxed grip on hand instruments.


Better Ergonomics Results in Better Outcomes

During COVID-19, when mental and physical health are under global duress, sound ergonomics will ensure healthy and happy experiences at your practice for patients and practitioners alike. You and your patients will benefit tremendously by really keying into ergonomics and ensuring you’re doing everything possible to protect your body from breaking down.

at 10:15 AM
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