The right fit: Shopping for occupational health requires attention to the details too
By Anne Guignon, RDH, MPH, CSP
Many women enjoy shopping. I am not one of them. Until last fall I would rather do almost anything than shop for a new professional jacket or pair of pants. My wardrobe needed a serious update, but I’d backed myself into a corner. My calendar was full of speaking engagements and I had an appointment for a new series of professional photos.
For years I tried to find clothes that I loved, but rarely found anything that made me feel good. Money was not the issue. I just wanted to look well-groomed and be comfortable, but something was usually not quite right. I needed a fresh, new look. In desperation I reached out to several colleagues at the National Speakers’ Association chapter meeting. They always looked great. Everyone said, “Liz Meyers can help you. She loves to shop.”
At the end of the meeting I approached Liz. She agreed to help me shop, and she had only one rule: “You have to try on everything that I bring into the dressing room.” I agreed. The following day we headed to Chico’s. While I loved some of the styles and fabrics, most of the selections were just not right.
Our second destination was Talbots. The store was full of styles and colors that were more appealing.Within three hours my wardrobe makeover was well underway.
Liz’s guidance helped me understand a new way to look at fashion. More importantly, I learned why shopping for clothes was always such an ordeal. That Sunday afternoon, I found out my proportions fall into the petite category when it comes to jackets and tops. I’ve always known that I’m short-waisted, but I never understood that petite sizing reflects a measurement from shoulder to waist, not overall height and weight.
So, what does this story have to do with dental hygiene practice? Actually, everything. It is not unusual to have a conversation with a hygienist who is convinced he or she cannot wear loupes, or who is sure that there are no healthy seating options for his or her treatment room. Others think they will never find a glove that won’t lead to discomfort or fatigue, or they think all scrubs make them look like they’re dressed in a potato sack. It is all about understanding your body proportions. This is what I learned from my wardrobe makeover with Liz.
Back to the dental treatment room. If your loupes are more than 10 years old, chances are they are not ideal or based on the technology that is now outdated. Years ago, most clinicians chose small, sporty frames. Yes, they were “fashionable,” but they could not accommodate steep declination angles. Today, large frames are in vogue again, and large carrier lenses can support a steeper angle that minimizes head-tilt angles. Several companies now offer oculars with improved optical clarity and headlamps with an edge-to-edge uniform lighting option. Beware of companies that claim superior optics and lighting for bargain-basement pricing.
Other things to consider are the size of your head, the position of your ears, the shape of your nose, and the length of your eyelashes. Your frame selection should fit your head size. A small frame will not work for a large male head, and conversely, a large frame will not fit a user with a small face. Most people’s ears are not positioned at the same height on their head. Adjustable temple arms allow the loupes to be custom fitted to ear height, which results in a view through the optical center of the oculars. Adjustable nose pads not only improve comfort, but help keep the loupes positioned correctly on your nose and increase the distance between the optics and the tips of the eyelashes. Those with long lashes know how annoying it is to clean mascara streaks off the oculars between patients.
Headlights have become increasingly popular. Many clinicians feel their headlight is more important than magnification. Like any other commodity, headlights are all over the place, and the internet is full of sites that sell cheap headlights. I purchased one just for the sake of comparison. Don’t waste your money. It would be just as effective to duct-tape a mini flashlight from a dollar store to your eyewear. Serious headlights are not cheap and are available either cordless or with a cable that attaches to a battery pack. There are advantages to both designs.
Three key features to consider are the brightness, color, and clarity of the spot; the power system; and the electrical safety of the charging system. Look for a clean, even spot. Fuzzy spotlights can lead to eye fatigue. High-end headlights have spots that are blue-light compliant, and come with charging systems that follow Underwriters’ Laboratories safety standards.
When it comes to alternative or saddle seating, “butt testing” should be your deciding factor. What works for your work buddy who’s as thin as a toothpick may not work for you. It’s not a matter of right or wrong; it is simply a matter of what seat pan design, tilt adjustment, and cylinder height will keep your spine comfortable in a neutral position. As much as I would love to embrace all saddle styles, only one configuration works well for my torso. Before you shell out the dollars for a seating option, make a plan. You can try a colleague’s saddle, ask a dealer to bring in different styles, or if you have the opportunity, try different styles at a convention. Padding or foam are also a personal preference.
Gloves and uniforms that fit correctly are important. Most of us have encountered situations where we’ve had to wear the wrong glove. If you’re like me, my focus shifts away from providing clinical care when my gloves aren’t comfortable. Gloves are a barrier and need to fit like a second skin, without compression or bagginess. Gloves that are too tight lead to hand and thumb pain, and gloves that are too loose interfere with tactile sensitivity and precision gripping. Proper glove fit depends on the size and shape of your palm, the length and diameter of your fingers, and the flexibility of the glove fabric. Another important consideration is thumb positioning. Some ambidextrous gloves exert excessive force on the thumb, which creates a dangerous postural situation.
Nitrile and polychloroprene gloves are the most popular today. Several brands of gloves have been subjected to rigorous independent testing to determine a minimal impact to hand muscles while not interfering with performance, hand posture, or gripping. Consider a brand that holds an ergonomic certification. Just like women’s clothing, sizing is not standardized. One company’s medium may not be the same fit as another company’s medium. Everything depends on the size and shape of the hand formers used in glove fabrication. Half sizes, are now available, a breakthrough for those who have never found the right size. It’s easy to order samples and determine your perfect fit.
Finally, consider the fit and fabric of your clinical attire. Research has shown that tight clinical jackets impinge on shoulder mechanics. If your jacket is too tight or the fabric does not stretch sufficiently, activities such as reaching for the overhead light or attempting to retrieve an item behind you can have a negative impact on the musculoskeletal system. Tight-fitting pants can also cause a person to lean further forward when sitting down or when seated. The pelvic angle also increases with these two postures, which creates additional musculoskeletal strain on the lumbar spine and pelvis.
So, even if you don’t enjoy shopping, it’s important to pay attention to your body, and then take the time to shop for the proper equipment that will make your day in the operatory much more productive and comfortable. RDH
ANNE NUGENT GUIGNON, RDH, MPH, CSP, 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, and can be contacted at email@example.com.