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Burnished and burnt out: Tools to help hygienists reduce on-the-job pain and stress

June 21, 2022
If your instruments are dull or your body hurts because of poor ergonomics, it is difficult to work. These products and technologies can help you feel better and combat burnout.

Being overworked and underappreciated is not something new. There is no better time than today to build the life you want. “I often stayed in work situations longer than necessary out of fear, comfort, or convenience. This rarely has served me well,” Kari Carter-Cherelus, RDH, DA, writes in her book The Ultimate Guide for Dental Hygienist Burnout: The Guide to Having an Optimal Dental Hygiene Career.

Kari is an RDH of 17 years, an RCC Influencer, speaker, and founder of the “Dental Hygienist Burnout: Prevention, Recovery, Career Options” Facebook group. She spends her days educating dental hygienists on ways that they can combat burnout.

Sometimes that means leaving a toxic work environment, and other times it means getting the right tools for the job. If your instruments are dull, it makes your job harder and causes more stress. If your body hurts because of poor ergonomics, it is difficult to work. “Body pain can contribute to a shortened career, surgeries, and resenting your profession,” says Kari. For these reasons, she recommends investing in ourselves by using loupes, customized seating, and sharp instruments with larger handles. Kari appreciates brands with long-standing reputations and innovative technologies such as Crown Seating, Hu-Friedy, and LumaDent.

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Scale the stress away

We’ve all felt the sweat drip down our faces as we try to remain calm and think back on basic instrumentation rules, all while knowing that the blunted instrument in our hand is gliding over the calculus. Not only are you as a clinician feeling guilty about your inability to “get” that tenacious calculus, but you’re stressed because you’re running late, your next patient is waiting, and you need a bathroom break.

Kari believes we can reduce some of these stressful situations and reduce burnout with the right instruments. She loves and recommends Hu-Friedy instruments. They are developed with “stainless steel alloy that stays sharper longer for less frequent sharpening, more clinical efficiency, and greater productivity.”1

She especially likes Hu-Friedy’s EverEdge, stating, “They are easy for me to sharpen, and they last a long time.” Kari also likes Hu-Friedy’s color-coded handles that improve efficiency and clinical outcomes. The color-coding reduces the seconds between putting down one instrument and picking up another.

While the program is currently under review, Kari loves Hu-Friedy’s Environdent instrument recycling program. “The program has enabled me to have my own instruments, and there is nothing better than opening up a new instrument.” We could not agree more.

Sit down and take notice

There is nothing like sitting in a chair customized to your physical needs and feeling the tension leave your body. The right chair can significantly reduce burnout in the dental setting. Kari’s Facebook burnout page states, “Improper ergonomics can contribute to burnout in our field as we bend over backward.” We may figuratively bend over backward for our patients and employers, but with nonergonomic seating, we literally bend over in unhealthy postures.

That is why Kari’s favorite products are those that reduce stress on our bodies in clinical practice. She recommends Crown Seating saddle stools for proper support and posture. Crown Seating designs each of their “ergonomically correct dental stools to fit a specific body instead of everybody.”2 Crown Seating has nine stools, all made to fit different needs and body types. Crown Seating chairs have width and angle adjustments, multiangle pelvic positioning, and serene-gel foam cushions. These features help reduce lower back issues and provide us with the support and comfort we need while treating patients. If we reduce pain, we reduce burnout.

Keeping an eye on ergonomics

With proper ergonomics, we can practice comfortably, especially for longer procedures. Unfortunately, clinicians frequently contour their bodies in unhealthy ways so they can see better. Kari recommends the 2021 Cellerant Best of Class Hygiene Award-winning LumaDent ErgoPrism loupes3 to help keep our bodies healthy.

The ErgoPrism loupes design enables practitioners to work with a neutral posture, reducing the strain on our necks, backs, and eyes. They do this by eliminating the concept of declination angle. Instead of you angling to see, ErgoPrism loupes are built to force you to sit upright and keep your back and neck in a neutral position. The proof is in the posture.

Kari’s other tips include getting regular massages, seeing a chiropractor, and taking days off from work. 

Follow Kari for more burnout tips and advice on Instagram @kmc.smiles.

Editor's note: This article appeared in the June 2022 print edition of RDH magazine. Dental hygienists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here.


  1. Hand scaling. Hu-Friedy.
  2. Crown Seating.
  3. LumaDent.
About the Author

Amber Lovatos, BSDH, RDH

Amber Lovatos, BSDH, RDH, “The Latina RDH,'' is the founder of Latin RDH and the host of Un Cuento de Dos Higienistas podcast. She has been compassionately blazing trails personally and professionally for more than 10 years. As a clinician, educator, author, and champion for public health issues, she inspires industry colleagues with unique stories that include triumph over abuse and being first-generation college graduate. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Instagram @thelatinardh and @dentalhygienespark.