Dentists and hygienists are so focused on their patients that they tend to forget about themselves.
However, even the most dedicated dental professional knows they must care for their own physical and mental health in order to provide optimal care.
Because their work is physically and mentally stressful, dentists and hygienists are more susceptible to musculoskeletal injuries and disorders (MSD’s). Dental professionals frequently suffer from back and neck pain caused by the awkward, forward hunching posture that is necessary to examine a patient's mouth.
The problem is so prevalent that up to 30% of dentists are forced to retire early due to MSD, and up to 70% of industry professionals are stricken with neck pain.
With that in mind, it’s clear that ergonomic magnification loupes are a must-have in any dental practice.
Not All Loupes are Created Equal
Finding an ergonomic loupe may seem like an easy thing, but unfortunately, some loupes aren't ergonomic even though they claim to be.
To start, there are plenty of sub-par products on the dental equipment market. Many manufacturers sacrifice quality and standards in the name of low prices, and ergonomic magnification loupes are no exception.
Some salespeople claim that all loupes are the same, but that’s just not true.
To determine whether or not a loupe is ergonomic, you have to be 100% sure of its declination angle. This angle determines how steeply your view drops through magnification oculars. If the declination angle doesn't hold your head upright, it increases the risk of chronic neck pain.
Here's what you need to remember about ergonomic loupes:
- For an ergonomic working distance and declination angle, there must be a forward head of less than 20 degrees. This is your first line of defence for staving off chronic neck pain.
- A forward tilt of 20 degrees or greater will first cause you substantial discomfort and can contribute towards permanent MSD.
Neck Pain Shouldn’t Be “Part of the Job”
There is something of a toxic trend in our profession when it comes to musculoskeletal disorders.
It's believed by many dental professionals that physical discomfort (e.g., neck pain) comes with the job. Don't be fooled. Pain won't only cause your body to break down and fail you; it can also wreak havoc on your mental health too.
Recently, Dee Humphrey, RDH, BHSc wrote to DentalTown describing how using non-ergonomic loupes can shorten careers. Her own tenure as a dentist was prematurely ended due to a previous neck injury that grew worse because of a faulty product.
Humphrey offers dentists and hygienists the following advice on choosing ergonomic loupes:
- Have a colleague help you assess your work posture while using a loupe. This will help ensure your current loupe is giving your neck the support it needs—if it’s not, look into another option.
- Keep in mind that snazzy-looking loupes aren't a priority. Do your due diligence when it comes to ergonomic products. Ignore salespeople who focus only on aesthetics.
- Don't take salespeople or marketing collateral at face value. You need to fact-check all their ergonomics claims.
Finally, be proactive in learning about ideal ergonomic posture and what it looks like. Ask someone to take a photo as you work—or take a video. This can help you make necessary postural corrections.
Humphreys urges hygienists and dentists to listen to their bodies, not salespeople or colleagues. Neck pain shouldn’t be ignored. It could be a sign you need a new loupe.