Ergonomics is no longer just a trendy buzz word. Join Cindy on this TIPisode as she discusses personal injuries in the dental office. Did you know we are #1 on a list! But don’t get too excited, this isn’t going to be a good list to be on!
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:
Uche Odiatu: How many of us even had a clue that choosing a profession in health care could be so damaging to our own personal health?
I’m Cindy Purdy, and 2020 marks my 40th year to be practicing dental hygiene. At about the 10th or 12th year, I started noticing that many of my own dental hygiene classmates that I had graduated with were starting to cut back their work hours or even leaving dentistry all together. And I thought maybe I should look into some of these disorders that they were telling me they had, and symptoms. You know, for the sake of my friends because, I mean after all, I was young and indestructible, right? [Laughing] Nothing was going to happen to me.
So long story short. This search led me to an Ergonomic Certificate from the University of Colorado, and in addition to that being certified as an Ergonomic Assessment Specialist, which means I’m qualified to go into workplaces and assess the environment for the potential for the workers to develop musculoskeletal disorders and then to offer solutions. And, because of this specialized ergonomic education, I also work with a couple of dental manufacturing companies as their director of professional services.
There as an article written by Andy Kursk — I believe I’m pronouncing that correctly — and Rachel Gillett for Business Insiders, and it is updated every two years. I first saw it in 2015. In 2015, the title of their article was “The 27 Jobs That Are Most Damaging to Your Health.” Some of you listeners may have seen this on Facebook recently because they redid it in 2018. In 2018, I think they changed it to the 47 unhealthy jobs. I think that’s how it’s typed.
So I’ve been following their — this review of theirs for five years now. So what do you think? Did dentistry make it to the top 27? Let me give you a little — before you make up your mind, let me give you a little background on what the original study was looking for. They investigated 974 different occupations, and in order to analyze these jobs by their impact on the worker’s health, they used data from the Occupational Information Network, which is a Department — a US Labor — Department of Labor database. They used their database. And they measured 6 different health risks for every one of these 974 jobs.
What they checked for was, one, exposure to contaminants; two, exposure to disease and infection; three, exposure to hazardous conditions; four, exposure to radiation; five, exposure to minor cuts, bites, and stings; and six, time spent sitting. Now, they choose this because of the new study showing that frequent inactivity shortens your lifespan.
And they rated these six different health risks. They gave them ratings from 0 to 100. So, in the original research, in the original report, they grouped — in 2015 — they grouped all of dentistry together. Dentists, oral surgeons, dental assistants, dental hygienists, dental techs. And — [laughing] yay, I guess — we were number one. Just as an example, this was higher than refuge collectors, nuclear equipment technicians, derrick operators, flight attendants, EMT, wastewater treatment plant operators. I mean, I was shocked when I first read this. I really, really was shocked.
By the time they redid this in November of 2018, they separated all of us out in dentistry. They realized that all of our jobs are not the same with regard to these six different health risks. So things changed a little bit in the numbering system. Number seven was prosthodontist; number five, dental assistants; dental lab techs took number four; general dentist took number two; and guess who stands all alone at the top for number one? Dental hygienist.
Our total unhealthy score as number one was 72.8. With regard to the exposure to disease and infection, we had 100. With regards to exposure to radiation, we received a total of 91. With regard to sitting, we received 85. I don’t know how all that adds up to a total score of 72.8 because to me — I guess the other 3 must have brought us down.
But, with regard to exposure to disease, infection, and radiation, those results aren’t shocking to me. I don’t know about you all, but I mean, we kind of — I think we kind of expected that when we signed up for this job. And I say thank you very much to OSHA. I feel like we are fairly protected in these arenas. Or at least we can be if we’re following the current OSHA guidelines.
But, with regard to time spent sitting, there are many options available for improving seating, but there are not regulations…yet. Therefore, it’s not required. And this is why we are currently experiencing a revolution or an evolution in dental sitting or standing, whichever you choose to do.
If you recall, dentistry started off standing. It was back in the day when dentists were barbers and barbers were dentists, and they were having a lot of head, neck, and shoulder problems. So it’s kind of a long story, the history of it, but we then went to sitting because we thought that would help us. All that did was take all of our problems and move them downward. Now, we have hip, legs, and feet problems. Some people — and knee problems for some people.
There are some now who are recommending that we stand, but that — in my mind, that’s because they don’t really have a full appreciation for where we came from and why we left that option behind so many decades ago.
Sitting in a tradit — yes, standing offers a neutral pelvic position, which is good; a healthy lumbar curve, also good; and even disk pressure. But it is still not healthy for our legs and feet. And the tasks that we are meant to perform in dentistry lead to us not being able, while we’re standing, to stay in neutral position. We can’t see. Therefore, we end up bending more so while we’re standing than some of the options that we have while we’re sitting. We just can’t see all the different areas of the mouth without bending.
So sitting in the traditional stool or standing should not be the only options that we consider. We should not stop there. Enter the concept of elevated seating or support from saddle stools. An elevated position positions our pelvis in a downward and forward direction, and that enhances and supports a safer lumbar curve. It’s more close to neutral position than sitting in a traditional stool.
And a saddle stool gives you a wide, balanced base of support. It increases your range of motion and ease of movement. It positions you closer to the patient because it has your hips above your knees. Therefore, because of that slant, you can slide in closer to the patient.
A few disadvantages and a few words of caution regarding a saddle stool. You need to ease into it. Saddle soreness is a real thing. I recommend that maybe you alternate between using it when you first get one, are first trying one. You alternate between using your traditional stool and your saddle stool between each patient, or one in the morning, one in the afternoon for the first couple of days. It’s just like when you get into your first set of loupes. You are using different muscles, and you need to ease into it.
And, really, some — there are some conditions that maybe are not meant for a saddle stool or it’s going to take you longer to ease into it. Some of the preexisting conditions that effect this are arthritis, scoliosis, if you’re pregnant, if you’ve been in a car wreck, if you’ve had an athletic injury, if you’ve had a joint replacement, if you have autoimmune disorders, especially those that are associated with inflammation, if you have a neuromuscular disorder or circulatory disorders. You — so you may, in those situations — doesn’t mean you can’t use a saddle stool or try a saddle stool, but you may want to take advantage of a demo program that will allow you to use it for a time frame before you purchase it. Or you might even just completely put a traditional saddle stool aside and there are some hybrid saddle stools that might be more effective for you.
So I hope this helps some of you with your decision-making when it comes to your seating options. And just wanted to let you know that Crown Seating has supported me on this, and we will be supporting A Tale of Two Hygienists by offering a giveaway of a saddle stool to their listeners each month. Thank you very much.
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.