How Goldilocks saves careers

June 27, 2014
Dental hygiene can be a demanding profession, both mentally and physically. Working with patients while maintaining good physical health can present challenges to hygienists.

By Ann-Marie C. DePalma, RDH, MEd, FADIA, FAADH

Dental hygiene can be a demanding profession, both mentally and physically. Working with patients while maintaining good physical health can present challenges to hygienists. Many hygienists have experienced physical injuries as a result of poor ergonomic choices and work conditions. Cindy Purdy, RDH, BSDH, CEAS, has created programs that focus on protecting the hygienist so that many years of practice will be rewarding and healthy.

Her favorite topic, "Goldilocks and the Three Chairs: Insights into Healthy Options," assists dental professionals in answering questions about occupational injuries that can decrease productivity, shorten careers, and reduce the pleasures of family and social life. The program enables participants to actively create their own safe work environment. The program's goals include:

  • Defining ergonomics and ergonomic principles
  • Discussing the role of ergonomics in dentistry
  • Review of dental hygiene injuries and musculoskeletal disorders
  • Identifying correct and incorrect posture positions
  • Recognizing the proper selection and use of appropriate dental equipment and delivery systems
  • Selecting magnification/illumination and stools/chairs for individual needs.

Since she has additional education in ergonomics, Cindy also has developed a workshop with Anne Guignon, RDH, MPH, titled, "Stop the Pain! A Scientific and Hands-On Approach to Preventing the Ultimate Career Killers – Neck, Shoulder and Back Pain." The seminar is based on a collaborative research project initiated by the two dental hygienists.


Other articles by DePalma:


Musculoskeletal disorders are a significant occupational injury for all dental professionals, with reported rates of 64% to 93% of the workforce affected. Each dental professional, from clinical to business team member, is affected differently. It is imperative that all team members benefit from ergonomic discussions and a thorough assessment of the entire practice environment.

Cindy and Anne conducted an ergonomic survey in 2012 of over 1,200 hygienists representing 46 states and six Canadian providences. The results were astonishing as more than 50% of respondents report one or more occupational injuries, usually involving the neck, shoulders, and back. Although their research did not demand the high level of evidence-based information that validates research programs, they wanted to give dental professionals who have been injured a voice and create awareness of a subject that is not often considered important. Pre-injury prevention, education, and intervention are the messages that they want to promote.

Cindy became interested in ergonomics over 15 years ago. She had seen many talented, intelligent clinicians suffer from debilitating occupational injuries and subsequent surgeries, and she decided to educate herself about prevention and intervention. She earned both her occupational ergonomic certificate and Prosci Change Management training from Colorado State University. Recently, she also achieved the certified ergonomic assessment specialist distinction from the Back School of Atlanta.

In 2010, she was offered the opportunity to consult with Crown Seating, a manufacturer of ergonomic operator stools, and she jumped at the chance to give her injured colleagues a voice. From there, her programs grew. During her presentations, she utilizes PowerPoint, but more so to keep everyone on the same page while providing handouts that offer reference sheets for future research and reflection. Ideally, she prefers to have all participants gather in a circle similar to the older generations of quilters or during family dinners. She believes the best way to learn is from each other by sharing stories through these informal discussions. But she also understands the needs of contemporary continuing education and has modified the program to meet today's needs and event expectations. She encourages participants to continue on their own individualized ergonomic journey.

Cindy is a graduate of the University of New Mexico Dental Hygiene associate's degree program. After raising a family and years of clinical practice, she pursued a degree completion program at Northern Arizona University receiving a bachelor's in dental hygiene.

One of her greatest joys is seeing her two sons weave their way into becoming grown men, husbands, and fathers, and realizing that they actually did and did not hear what she and their father were telling them along the way. With their families, they all enjoy fly-fishing, gold panning, ghost town touring, and antiquing in the rural areas of the Colorado mountains. She is a people watcher at heart and describes herself as keen, yearning, and true.

Cindy has always been an ADHA member and is very concerned about the permanent musculo-skeletal damage she sees members of the profession enduring. For her presentations, she often will bring a demonstration stand that holds an articulating mouth and head so that she can demonstrate proper patient and operator positioning. During one program, she had only remembered to bring the stand and mouth, making those who know her realize that she had truly "forgotten" her head!

As you can imagine, Cindy also has a great sense of humor.

She is excited that clinicians are requesting information and taking an active role in maintaining a healthy career. For many years, ergonomics was considered a dead, boring topic within the dental community. Many of those who were preaching education and prevention were expressing frustrations that their messages were falling on deaf ears with needed changes not being made by the dental manufacturing industry. This has now changed. Cindy is privileged to have been a part of the action team responsible for bringing industry and clinicians together. She regrets not having realized the benefits of attending national dental and dental hygiene meetings earlier in her career. There is no better career-enhancer than the life-long friendships and mentoring experiences one gains by attending these meetings.

Ergonomics is defined as the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of the interactions among humans and their professions that applies theory, principles, data, and methods to design and optimize well-being and overall system performance. Cindy has taken the dental hygiene profession to the next level by educating and protecting dental hygienists to allow fulfilling, safe, and lifelong careers.

For more information on Cindy and her programs, contact her at [email protected]

Thought for the month:

"We can either change the complexities of life, or develop ways that enable us to cope more effectively." -- Herbert Benson

This month's INeedCE course, "Oral Health Maintenance in Head and Neck Cancer Patients," will qualify for 50% discount when the promo code ANJUNE14 is used. The regular price is $59; after the discount, it's $29.50.

Oral Health Maintenance in Head and Neck Cancer Patients:
Many head and neck cancer patients are not treated in large cancer centers that have dental oncologists as a part of the cancer care team. They are being treated in smaller cancer centers or private oncology practices where there may not be a focus on oral health. These patients are coming to their regular dental offices for care, often presenting with the side effects of their cancer treatment.

Standards and protocols for care of these patients are detailed for use in a general dental practice. This course consolidates current recommendations into specific protocols that are easily implemented in the general dental practice. The goal is to give dentists and dental hygienists the confidence to treat head and neck cancer patients effectively and with concern for the whole person who is in need of special care at this vulnerable time.

ANN-MARIE C. DEPALMA, RDH, MEd, FADIA, FAADH, is a Fellow of the American Academy of Dental Hygiene and the Association of Dental Implant Auxiliaries, as well as a continuous member of ADHA. She presents continuing education programs for dental team members on a variety of topics. Ann-Marie is collaborating with several authors on various books for dental hygiene and can be reached at [email protected].

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