Is Hygiene a Pain?
The answer to this may be a resounding, “YES”! Figuratively speaking, there are many reasons hygiene can be a pain. Patients show up late, openings make steam come out of the dentist’s ears, running behind schedule is stressful, patients are not interested in the condition of their mouth, etc. The list can go on and on!
While this makes sense figuratively, it also makes sense literally. It is a fact that hygienists suffer from aching wrists, backs and necks. In 2001, 65% of registered dental hygienists reported having carpel tunnel syndrome (CTS) that required days away from work and 79% of dental hygienists reported days away from work due to repetitive motion exposure. Several studies show that 70-80% of hygienists are practicing with some sort of musculoskeletal pain or discomfort.
Is it any wonder this happens to the hygienist’s body? Take a look at a hygienist at work. Shoulders are typically held up under their ears. They are hunched over the patient so they can get close enough to see those tiny little teeth and fingers grip thin handled instruments like eagles clutches their prey. Combine this environment with the fact that the average hygienist works approximately 16 years and many of them work an estimated 32 hours per week. If hygienists practice in this position for that amount of time, it is obvious why hygiene is a pain, literally.
Spend an hour hanging out in a room full of hygienists and this will prove to be true. I have heard many of my colleagues speak about the pain they experience on a daily basis as a result of being a hygienist. I too, have felt the effect of sitting in a contorted position for several hours a day. At one point in my career my neck and shoulders hurt so badly I could not endure more than a couple of weeks in between visits to the chiropractor. I was not sure how much longer I would be able to tolerate the pain. Thankfully I was working with a dentist who recognized the importance of keeping me pain free. He recommended I start using loupes and work sitting in an ergonomic chair. This was the dawn of a new day for me.
I am sure the loupes and chair have saved my career. My neck and shoulder pain dissipated almost spontaneously. This was directly related to the natural position I was able to practice in. No longer did I need to sit hunched over the patient to see what I was doing. The arms on the chair provided a place for me to rest my arms, which resulted in my shoulders being in a natural position and not crunched up to my ears.
Not only have loupes made me a healthier/happier hygienist, my patients have benefited from them as well. I am able to provide a more thorough and comfortable cleaning experience due to improved vision. I do not need to rush through an appointment because I need to get out of an uncomfortable position. My disposition is more pleasant because I don’t hurt. Patients are not inconvenienced by my having to reschedule them due to a chiropractor appointment or having to take the day off because I just can’t work with the pain.
When speaking with my colleagues about loupes they are typically resistant to them due to the cost. My answer is that this is a “no brainer”. How can a price be attached to the benefits I just mentioned? If the hygienist becomes too crippled, he/she will be out of work. An investment in health is worth the price to prevent this catastrophe. Many loupe companies offer an interest free payment plan so they can be paid for over time. While I am a proponent of hygienists purchasing their own equipment, dentists should mull over the advantages of their hygienists practicing in an ergonomically correct position and how assisting them in staying healthy would benefit them and their practice. A day of canceled hygiene appointments results in a loss of approximately $1200 in production, not to mention the inconvenience to the patients and the hassle of trying to reschedule the patients into an already full hygiene schedule. What if the injuries become so severe the hygienist misses several days in a year? This could lead to major issues within the office which would far outweigh the cost of loupes and a chair.Many offices have incorporated ways to assist the hygienist in obtaining ergonomic equipment. Some purchase the equipment up front and have the hygienist pay them back over time through a payroll deduction. Others agree to pay for a certain percentage of the equipment and the hygienist pays the rest. I have seen offices purchase the equipment out right and then it is the property of the office. I am sure there are other creative ways to make practicing ergonomically a reality. The bottom line is that hygienists need to be practicing smarter in order to keep their job from becoming a pain, literally.
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