Gloves can make the difference

Jan. 1, 2012
When gloves became part of our personal protection equipment 20 years ago, very few people thought that workplace safety issues would crop up ...

by Anne Nugent Guignon, RDH, MPH
[email protected]

When gloves became part of our personal protection equipment 20 years ago, very few people thought that workplace safety issues would crop up from working with gloves on hour after hour.1 Glove choices in those days were limited. All gloves were made from latex and were available in either ambidextrous or surgical hand-specific gloves.

Within a short period of time, health-care workers started developing latex allergies at a rate far higher than the general population.2 Others developed significant skin issues due to residual chemicals remaining from the manufacturing process. While the latex protein and chemical issues certainly deserved merit, my concerns involved clinicians using properly fitted gloves that allowed them to work with their hands in a natural and relaxed position.3,4

In February of 2001, a dental hygienist I know drove 200 miles to attend a CE course. Several months before the course, she’d started experiencing excruciating hand pain. Worried that her career was coming to a rapid end, she consulted a chiropractor, but the origin of her hand pain remained a mystery. On the drive back home, the CE discussion about glove fit resonated. She realized that her hand pain began shortly after her office changed glove brands. Her current gloves did not fit the palm of her hand, which created continuous, dangerous compression on delicate nerves, blood vessels, tendons, ligaments, muscles, and bones. As soon as she changed back to the previous brand, her hand pain disappeared.

In the summer of 2010, 247 clinicians participated in an online glove survey. Fifty-one percent of the respondents reported hand fatigue from wearing improperly fitted gloves. Nearly 10% were expected to use whatever was provided, regardless of fit or preference. One quarter of all respondents reported they would purchase their own gloves, while 5% said they would continue to wear what the office supplied. Nearly half of all respondents in the survey used nonlatex gloves at a rate around 10% higher than the national average at that time.5

When I was conducting this research, I had no idea that a breakthrough in the nitrile glove arena was in the development phase. Nitrile is a highly puncture-resistant material, an important feature in infection control.6 Traditionally, a stronger glove has been a thicker glove, resulting in a loss of dexterity and tactile sensitivity. Through the years there have been significant improvements in nitrile technology, resulting in gloves that are easier to put on and have more flexibility. But many clinicians still consider nitrile gloves too thick.7

At this year’s ADA meeting, Microflex announced a new nitrile exam glove that is a game changer. The XCEED is the first glove to be awarded an ergonomic certification from US Ergonomics, a multidisciplinary team of certified professional ergonomists that have done product testing for over two decades. As a company, Microflex fully appreciates how poor fitting gloves can contribute to hand fatigue that directly increases the potential for developing a workplace-related injury. This new nitrile formulation delivers an exceptionally thin and soft glove that is 60% stronger than nitriles of similar thickness. It is powder-free, has textured fingertips, and comes in five sizes ranging from extra-small to extra-large. Along with the ergonomic benefits of this glove, the pinhole rate is 75% below the minimum standard set by the FDA for exam gloves, resulting in a glove that provides superior barrier protection.8

In addition to the ergonomic certification, this new glove embodies other distinctive features, one of which is the actual cost. While quality nitrile gloves often cost 50% more than ambidextrous latex varieties, the perceived savings from latex diminishes significantly due to the large number of ripped gloves.

Since the XCEED is so thin, it takes less nitrile material to make the glove. Thinner gloves mean more can be packed into the box. Boxes of XCEED contain 250 gloves, versus traditional gloves packed 100 to a box, and the box is a half inch taller but three quarters of an inch narrower than a standard rectangular box of gloves. The result is a lower cost for hazardous waste disposal, less bulk in landfills, reduced storage requirements in your clinical office, less packaging material, and less fuel consumption to manufacture and transport the final product.

While the idea of using a glove that reduces the risk of workplace injury is amazing, helping a practice save money is critical in today’s business world while not compromising employee safety.

The analysis of my clinical office’s annual savings proves the point. Three part-time hygienists, who spend one hour per patient, practice a combined total of 4.25 days a week. The assistant generally works the same amount of time. In a typical year we use 120 boxes, or 6,000 pairs of nitrile gloves, at an annual cost of $1,774, or 29.4 cents per pair. In 2012 we’ll order approximately 48 boxes of XCEED gloves, spending an estimated $804, which is a net savings of $970 in our small, slow-paced office. The savings can be used for anything from salary increases to purchasing equipment to funding a trip to the annual RDH Under One Roof conference next August. Bottom line — the XCEED is ultimately kinder to one of our most precious tools, our hands.

While there will never be one perfect, universal glove that will fit everyone’s personal hand dimensions, it is exciting to have another quality product to choose from that will increase our comfort zone in so many unexpected and positive ways.


1. Dianat I, Haslegrave CM, Stedmon AW. Using pliers in assembly work: short and long task duration effects of gloves on hand performance capabilities and subjective assessments of discomfort and ease of tool manipulation. Appl Ergon. 2012 Mar;43(2):413-23. Epub 2011 Jul 20.
2. Toraason M, Sussman G, et al. Latex allergy in the workplace. Toxicol Sci. 2000 Nov;58(1):5-14. Review.
3. Willms K, Wells R, Carnahan H. Glove attributes and their contribution to force decrement and increased effort in power grip. Hum Factors. 2009 Dec;51(6):797-812.
4. Drabek T, Boucek CD, Buffington CW. Wearing the wrong size latex surgical gloves impairs manual dexterity. J Occup Environ Hyg. 2010 Mar;7(3):152-5.
5. Guignon AN. What’s happening to our hands? RDH. 2010 Aug;30(8).
6. Mikov I, Turkalj I, Jovanović M. Occupational contact allergic dermatitis in dentistry. Vojnosanit Pregl. 2011 Jun;68(6):523-5.
7. Sawyer J, Bennett A. Comparing the level of dexterity offered by latex and nitrile SafeSkin gloves. Ann Occup Hyg. 2006 Apr;50(3):289-96.
8. Surgeon’s Gloves and Patient Examination Gloves; Defects - Criteria for Direct Reference Seizure. Accessed December 6, 2011.

Anne Nugent Guignon, RDH, MPH, provides popular programs, including topics on biofilms, power driven scaling, ergonomics, hypersensitivity, and remineralization. Recipient of the 2004 Mentor of the Year Award and the 2009 ADHA Irene Newman Award, Anne has practiced clinical dental hygiene in Houston since 1971.

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