Let’s talk ergonomics. It isn’t just a buzz word. We put our bodies through a lot as dental professionals. Where did the idea of ergonomics even come from and how do we apply it to our profession? Cindy breaks it down for us and gives us some ways to help protect our body from pain and injury.
Multiple decades (!) of clinical dental hygiene has fueled Cindy’s passion for equity of care. Currently, she developed a hybrid traditional/virtual dental practice in her rural community. By providing training and strategic development that emphasize alternative, collaborative, or independent workforce models, she utilizes teledentistry as a platform to redefine dental hygiene careers.
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This TIPisode has been transcribed for your viewing pleasure:
Cindy Prudy: Okay. So your lunch hour finally arrives, and you think “all I’m going to have to do is stand up, and my shoulders won’t ache so much, and my hands won’t hurt so much.” And then after you do that, you think “okay, maybe a little stretching is in order to get these muscles reactivated.” And then when that’s not enough, you think “I’m going to take a walk. I just need a walk during my lunch hour to kind of work some of these kinks out.” And then after you do that — as toward the end of your walk, you think “really? What I’d really like to do is just get in my car, go to the airport, and never return to this job that’s causing me so much pain and interrupting my lifestyle.” Does that sound — ring true for any of you all out there?
My name is Cindy Purdy, and if any of you caught the last TIPisode here on A Tale of Two Hygienists, you’ll know that I’ve been a practicing dental hygienist for 40 years now — I don’t really know how that happened. That seemed to have gone by pretty quickly — And I have an ergonomic certificate from the University of Colorado. I am a CEAS, a Certified Ergonomic Assessment Specialist.
We seem to love acronyms in dentistry, don’t we? I don’t know if it helps — we feel like it separates us from everybody else or what, but we have FMX, OCS, EXT. Well, today, I’m going to expand upon another acronym, one that has the potential to shorten or completely destroy our beloved dental careers: MSDs, musculoskeletal disorders.
When I was taking my course at the University of Colorado, the ergonomics course, it was really — it was not related to dentistry. It was more related to — it had a more industrial feel to it like how much weight should you be lifting and how fast the conveyor belt should be going and things like that. I changed all of my assignments over so that they were related to dentistry.
Well, let me step back just a minute. In this — let’s give you a definition of ergonomics. In this course, I learned the best definition that I had ever heard of of ergonomics, one that I could really understand. It was by Doctor Stephen Pheasant. He was a PhD; his book was titled — it was simpily [sic] titled Ergonomics, Work and Health. And his definition of ergonomics is also very simple. It’s “finding the greatest possible match for the greatest number of people by adapting the product to fit the user.”
Ergonomics is difficult — has science to it, but it’s difficult to prove some of it because every person is different and every body is different, so we all respond differently to some of the products around us. But the most important thing about that definition is that we — it said that we adapt the product to fit the user. We are the user. The products are everything around us. Our tools are not just the instruments that we put in our hands. The things that we need to adapt are the patient chair, the patient themselves, the location of the light, the stool that we are sitting on. We need to change all of those things before we adapt ourselves because we will break. The other things will not break.
Again, when I was in my course, the thing that really shined a light on for me was that they already knew what the risk for developing musculoskeletal disorders were. They already knew the risks.
Now, to me, I thought “this is great. I’m going to bring this to dentistry,” because I felt like if we knew the risks, we could have some — try to control them, then we would reduce the number of practitioners that were developing musculoskeletal disorders. I thought it was brilliant. So here’s the risk for developing musculoskeletal disorders. Three things. Easy to remember. Duration, frequency, and intensity.
By duration we mean the minutes, the hours, the weeks, the years — in my case the decades [laughing] — that we are practicing. You got to know that the longer you practice, the more your risk for developing a musculoskeletal disorder is going to increase.
Frequency. The days of the wee — how many days of the week are we doing this, and are they back to back? If you are fortunate enough to only have to work three days a week — we all want that Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday job — right? — because we want those nice long weekends on both ends to have off. But you’ve got to know that a Monday, Wednesday, Friday type situation is going to be better for you ergonomically because you will have one day in between to have rested those muscles.
Intensity. It is basically simple tasks versus complex tasks. If you are working in a practice that has more complex tasks, your risk for developing a musculoskeletal disorder is going to be higher. If you are working in a practice that for a hygienist has a lot of scaling and root planning to be done, for a dentist a lot of surgical extractions, a lot of endodontic treatment where you’re just using your fingers and not other tools to assist you with that procedure, your risk for developing injury is going to be higher.
Now, I’m not saying — if this is your — the “love of your life” type job, stick with it. I’m not saying walk away from these. But try to get some control over some of these risks. If you have four hours of scaling and root planning, try to do two in the morning, two in the afternoon. Try to get some space in between some of your longer procedures is basically what I’m trying to say.
And musculoskeletal disorders, how do they happen? This, again, is straight from my books on ergonomics. They come from overexertion, overuse, strenuous physical activity — boy aren’t there days that we stand up and feel like we’ve just been run over by a truck — and repetitive motion. So it is basically your posture plus the activity that you’re doing and the motion that you’re doing all day long. Does this sound like what our jobs of — does this sound like our life in dentistry? Overexertion, overuse, strenuous activity, repetitive motion. So it’s not — it’s just a — it comes with the job, y’all. The tasks that we have to do are going to increase our risk for musculoskeletal disorder.
And how do they feel? Oh, I could get up on my high horse on this one. I’m trying to tell you all, pay attention to your body when it is whispering to you. Don’t wait until it gets to the screams. The whispers are the fact that when you stand up at 5 o’clock at night you go “oh, my gosh. I’m really tired. I think — I normally go play softball today, but I think tonight — but I think I’m going to give that up. I am just too tired.” That is when it’s going from just a whisper and it’s going to — your body’s going to start screaming at you. Don’t wait until it screams at you because mostly when it — most of the time when it’s screaming at you, the treatment is surgery.
And I’d like to remind you all that they did not put Humpty Dumpty together again just to put him back up on that same wall. There are many dental professionals that I’ve known in my career — and it gives me goosebumps to think about them — who even though they had surgery, they still were not able to return to their career. That is not the solution. Don’t wait until it gets to that point.
And I did a study with a friend of mine and a great colleague that you will all know, Ann Geon [sounds like], a number of years ago. And we asked — we had over 1,200 responses to this, and we asked mostly dental hygienists. We asked them, “So you preventative specialists, you who are supposed to be helping people prevent disease and disorders, what are — those of you who are injured, what are you doing as a prevention for now that you have been injured?”
I was very happy to hear that 50 percent of them said that they were stretching in between — during their clinical day; 39 percent said they were doing core fitness or strength training. Those two are great. To me, those are proactive, and that is what we should be doing.
I was very disappointed to hear about that 53 percent were using over the counter medication and 14 percent were using a prescription medication just to go to work on a daily basis; 39 percent said they were visiting a chiropractor; 50 percent said they were visiting — using the services of a massage therapist. I think that’s good except most of the people I know aren’t doing that preventatively. They’re telling me, “Oh, my back hurts. It’s time for me to go get a massage.” That’s not prevention. That is reactive, not proactive.
And what really slayed me was 27 percent said they are decreasing their workdays temporarily, and 38 percent said they have decreased their workdays permanently. To me, that’s not a solution. That, again, is a reaction. It doesn’t help our profession that we’re losing our most seasoned hygienist just due to being injured. I just believe there’s better answers. And, to me, a better solution is to recognize the risks and how they feel and to do something about them earlier.
I’d also like you to go — when you go to your next dental convention and you hit that exhibit hall, I’d like you to hit it with a whole new set of eyes. Instead of asking, “What’s the newest prophy paste flavor or fluoride varnish flavor?” I want you to start migrating toward the booths that look like they might be there for you as a practitioner. I want you to start inquiring as to what’s the next — what are the latest products out there that might help me to have a long and healthy career. Start thinking about yourself.
So this TIPisode has been proudly sponsored by Crown Seating. The owner of Crown Seating, Steve Knight, has a full commitment to the ergonomic education of our dental profession. And, in doing so, he’s offering a saddle stool giveaway during this month for the listeners of A Tale of Two Hygienists. So, if you are interested in that, stay tuned, and Michelle can direct you to the rest of the details for this offer. Thank you all for listening.
Michelle Strange: Thanks for listening to another TIPisode. We are excited to announce that you can win a Crown Seating saddle stool. Click the link in our show notes and enter to win. You can also find out more at crownseating.com. Don’t forget to hit the subscribe button in your podcast app, follow us on Facebook or Instagram, and head over to our website, ataleoftwohygienists.com, to sign up for our newsletter. We appreciate all ratings and reviews. Thank you for listening to your unofficial dental hygiene podcast.