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Your ergonomic journey: Protect your new hygiene career by prioritizing your health

May 31, 2022
Starting your new career is exciting—and a good time to start thinking about your long-term health as it relates to the job. Before you sign the dotted line, Cindy Purdy, BSDH, shares 14 things to ask potential new employers.

The confetti has settled. Graduation celebrations and parties are winding down. Now, instead of courses, credits, and clinical requirements, you suddenly have a professional career! It can be a bit daunting when you realize that the management and direction of this new career is 100% in your hands. No worries! There are plenty of social media connections and mentors with free advice and guidance for just about any situation as you begin along this path: clinical techniques, hours and benefits, private or corporate employment, even what to wear to that first interview.

Also by Cindy M. Purdy:

Pain from dental hygiene: A nuisance, distressing, or debilitating?

Get the upper hand: Ergonomic strategies to avoid musculoskeletal disorders

During all this excitement (panic!), don’t forget to prioritize your health. Make a commitment to begin your ergonomic journey before you even pick up that first instrument for your first patient. You can start this during the interview process. Keep your senses sharp when touring the potential office and hygiene operatory, and look around for—and ask about—the following:

  • Do any of the other employees wear loupes? Do you see any headlights charging at the end of the day? This single provision should be a big indicator as to the office’s value for employee health and patient care. Use of magnification loupes is the most effective ergonomic intervention by dental operators.
  • Does the patient chair have a wide back? This design offers comfort and security for patients but often compromises the operator’s ability to reach the patient. Investigate if the operator stool fits underneath the patient chair during a working position.
  • What type of operator stool is available? If it is not adequate for your body structure, is there an alternative, personalized option that better maintains neutral posture?
  • Pay attention to the instrument delivery system. Is it within an acceptable ergonomic working distance of 14-18 inches and a reaching distance of 22-26 inches? Is it behind the patient? Is it over the patient? Can the patient be accessed from the 12:00 + position?
  • Look at the hoses and cords on the delivery system. Are they heavy and coiled? Is there a cord management system that reduces muscle fatigue due to cord pullback forces?
  • A quick scan of the hygiene instrument packets or cassettes can be very enlightening. Ask if there is an instrument purchasing schedule. Are the instruments those that utilize the non-sharpening or less-sharpening technologies? Are the handles of ergonomic design? Inquire if there is an off-site sharpening program?
  • Ask if the office has an established ergonomic program. If you are not satisfied with the answer, the second question should be “Would you be interested in me establishing this employee benefit for you?” An employee ergonomic program is a benefit, the same as sick leave, holiday pay, and health insurance coverage. It can be inexpensive to establish, but can be the very reason for extended employee retention.
  • Does the schedule permit opportunities for proper stretching/rest? How long is the lunch period and how often is it attained? Is there enough time for a walk or for a quick in-office stretching program? Ask what time the staff is usually out of the office in the evening?
  • Is there an ultrasonic present within an ergonomic working and reaching distance? Are the ultrasonic inserts or tips of sufficient length? Are the handles of sufficient width and have a swivel option?
  • Is the low-speed handpiece corded or cordless?
  • How is periodontal charting completed? Is staff assistance offered or is there a hands-free system available?
  • Investigate the anesthesia delivery system. Is the hygienist responsible for the delivery of their patient anesthesia? Is there a computerized delivery system? Is there a variety of syringe sizes for smaller hands?
  • Do any employees wear noise-reduction ear plugs?
  • Is there a variety of glove sizes available?

These types of questions may possibly invoke a raised eyebrow from the interviewer, but it’s the perfect opportunity to share your knowledge and concern that musculoskeletal disorders disable not only the injured individual but the entire dental practice. They are currently resulting in an increase in sick leave, poorer quality of work, decreased job satisfaction, work-related accidents, and hygienists leaving the profession prematurely.

Any negative answers to these questions do not have to be a deal breaker. If this feels like the office, then go for it! These answers will develop a functioning list for your ergonomic journey, with a forward direction. Get a feel for the office’s ergonomic awareness and desire to move forward. They may be interested in an office ergonomic retreat. THRIVE is a wellness and alternative therapeutic ergonomic summit that offers preventive and therapeutic options for dental professionals. Ultimately, it may be the perfect glue that generates the team cohesiveness for your new “forever” office.