How did you take care of YOU in 2015?

Posted on December 28, 2015

It is cliché, but a question we need to ask of ourselves often, “What am I doing to protect my health and improve my life?” In dentistry, the biggest threat to career is skeletomuscular damage and injuries, and the best tool for prevention is practicing proper ergonomics.

Did you end 2015 with an operator stool fit to your specific needs? I remember starting my first job after graduation and my seat was a wooden stool from the dentist’s house. It did not roll and the height could not be adjusted. It was deemed appropriate for the frame of the 6’2” DDS. I’m 5’5”. I did not know as much about ergonomics in 1994 but I knew my body hurt everyday after work. I was there exactly 2 weeks.

Choices in seating now are almost limitless. Saddle seats, wide seats, narrow seats, and others shaped to allow for adequate blood flow are all on the market. If 2015 didn’t find you in the best seat for your body, begin 2016 with the search for the perfect stool.

Another area of proper ergonomics is the right shape, size and weight of instruments. Single ended dental instruments were designed for standing dentistry. If you are not standing at work those are not appropriate for your use. Also, if your hand instruments have thin handles, damage is occurring daily. The amount of ‘pinch pressure’ needed to hold thin-handled instruments leads to carpal tunnel syndrome and other hand muscle issues. Likewise, heavy or unbalanced instruments can cause unnecessary stress on your hands.

Years ago instruments were made with small diameter and smooth handles making it necessary to grasp the instrument very tightly to maintain control. Later, knurling or texture was added to aid in holding onto the instrument effectively. During my career, handles have become larger in diameter and each manufacturer has a knurling pattern specific to their line – both changes in design that lead to better hand ergonomics and overall better hand health.

American Eagle Instruments manufactures their handles with either resin or stainless steel. Practitioners can choose based on personal preference knowing that both are lightweight, large in diameter and knurled for an easier grip. The handles are the same high quality in both full instrument form and in the Quik-Tip cone socket design.

Proper ergonomics is also related to instrument design. Teeth are not flat and smooth with direct access to every millimeter of surface. If this were the case, a set-up with one universal curette would serve every need. The truth is that variations in tooth anatomy and limited access in the oral cavity create a need for area specific instruments. The American Eagle Blackjack and Double Gracey™ instruments are unique and well suited to access all areas of the mouth.

XP® Technology is a huge step in ergonomic instrument advancement. By providing us with a harder metal that stays sharp over the life of the instrument, hand pain from a career in dental hygiene can be a thing of the past. Very little lateral pressure is necessary to remove a deposit with XP Technology because you are working with a blade that is always sharp. This decrease in pressure allows for an even lighter grasp on the handle and less force on the fulcrum. In fact, external fulcrums are very effective with XP Technology in many areas of the mouth decreasing lateral pressure to almost zero. Less pressure = less muscle strain, which in turn = less fatigue and pain.

As a win/win for both practitioner and patient, less lateral pressure is also associated with a significant decrease in auditory noise from hand scaling. The squeaky, nails-on-a-chalkboard sound will be eliminated; a factor noticed right away by patients. I will never forget the day a long time patient asked me to be sure and use the ‘gold’ instruments because they were so much quieter.

I hope 2015 was a year each of you can look back on and recognize steps we took to protect our skeletomuscular health in the work setting. If not, 2016 is just around the corner and an excellent starting point for reviewing and improving your ergonomic situation.

- Lory Laughter, RDH, MS

If you would like more information on American Eagle Instruments, please call 800-551-5172 or email to set up a free 1 hour CE webinar.