Common ergonomic errors and solutions for dental hygienists

Editor's note: Read Stephanie Botts' recent article about ergonomics: Nearly 100% of hygienists have pain on the job. What can you do?Get more news about Ergonomic Dental,you can vist our website!

Ergonomics—people’s efficiency in their working environment—helps decrease muscle fatigue, increase productivity, and reduce the number and severity of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).1 The goal of ergonomics is to prevent soft tissue injuries and MSDs caused by sudden or sustained exposure to force, vibration, repetitive motion, and awkward posture.2

In the case of dental hygienists, this involves equipment placement and selection and evaluating their work habits to ensure proper ergonomics, neutral posture, and support of the body. Although practicing dental hygiene is ergonomically challenging, several common issues have relatively easy solutions that can significantly impact the care delivered and the level of pain or discomfort.Ergonomics is about honoring and respecting the body's unique capabilities and limitations and adjusting the workplace to support them. Most hygienists are provided a fixed operatory and a patient and they adjust their bodies to what is provided. This often leads to them holding static, awkward postures, bending, twisting, reaching, and performing repetitive motions during patient care.

When attempting to practice ergonomically, most hygienists need to adopt a radical change in mindset. They must put the health of their body first when entering the operatory and evaluating how they can adjust their provided workspace to support them.

Patient positioning
A common mistake by dental hygienists is not adjusting the patient chair or the patient depending on the area they’re treating. Taking the time to properly positionn the patient chair and patient will significantly reduce fatigue and pain. In addition, proper patient positioning will allow greater adoption of neutral posture and reduce harmful body movements, such as bending and twisting, that increase the likelihood of MSDs.

A patient's position will depend on which arch the hygienist is treating. When treating the maxillary arch, the patient chair should be fully supine, the headrest tilted back to encourage the chin to raise, and the height low enough to allow the hygienist’s elbows to bend at 90 degrees. The maxillary occlusal plane should be 10 to 20 degrees behind the vertical plane (figure 1 above). This angle is key to preventing leaning forward and it encourages neutral posture when the hygienist is seated at 12 o’clock.

If the mandibular arch is treated, the patient's chair back should be raised 20 to 30 degrees from the horizontal plane, which places them in a semi-supine position. The headrest should be tilted forward to encourage the chin to nod toward the chest, and the height of the patient chair should be lowered to allow the elbows to bend at 90 degrees. The mandibular plane of occlusion should be about 30 degrees elevated from the horizontal plane (figure 2).