BY ANNE NUGENT GUIGNON, RDH, MPH
The other day I received an email from a dental hygienist named Julie, pointing out how much information regarding workplace safety and wellness has meant to her. Unfortunately, her struggles with musculoskeletal disorders are not unique, but the actions she took are heartwarming.
According to Julie, after five years of practicing dental hygiene, her right shoulder and arm were in terrible shape. She could barely function. It was painful to get through the day, and she used her left arm to carry or perform any activities outside of work. Physical therapy helped her resolve her current situation. Julie also started using power scaling more, which also helped. Seven years later her right arm and shoulder started giving her trouble again. She was working four days a week and seeing a chiropractor regularly for relief, but the discomfort always came back.
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One day, a sales representative brought a saddle chair to Julie's office. She found she could get so much closer to the patient, dramatically decreasing her nagging body aches. Julie was hooked and purchased the saddle. Two years later, she took a public health position where she used portable equipment in school settings. It was really difficult to see because the lighting was so poor, so Julie invested in a pair of magnification loupes with a headlight.
Julie wrote, "I am amazed at how well I can see and how much more efficient I am not having to constantly adjust the light. I wish I had purchased them years ago. I have wanted to tell you my story for a long time. Please continue encouraging dental hygienists to take control and get the proper seating/magnification/illumination needed to be comfortable in their careers. I followed your columns for years, and it took me many years to finally take the plunge. Thank you!"
Every writer and speaker hopes to touch the live of people. We always wonder if anyone is listening and if our efforts are making a positive difference. Julie's story is a huge gift to me during this holiday season, and I thank her for taking the time to share her successes.
Sharing stories does not come easy for everyone, and Peggy's story is one that will make all of you shudder. Peggy sat on a traditional dental stool that had no support for eight years. She begged for a saddle for years, but her request fell on deaf ears. Now she has been off work for over six months due to two herniated discs in her lower back.
On the day worker's compensation finally approved surgery, she got a text message from her employer stating she was being dropped from the group health insurance policy; she needed to find her own plan. The dentist signed off with "We wish you well."
Peggy's message comes from hindsight and also her heart. "Protect your body at all cost. I should have listened when the pain started and purchased my own saddle. Get loupes too. Don't wait until your body is broken."
It's never easy to admit that we made a mistake. Peggy and I had a long conversation about her situation. She freely admits that she could have protected herself better. Like so many, she relied on her employer to take the corrective action, a false economy in many circumstances. In sharing her story, Peggy is giving each one of us a gift, a gift of reality - what can and will happen if we choose to ignore our body's warning signs.
Our bodies are tools. It is impossible to perform clinical dental hygiene with a broken body. In this season of giving, consider a gift to yourself. Step back and analyze your situation honestly and carefully.
No one will ever pay you enough to get hurt. Soreness, fatigue, muscle aches, and pains should not be part of the package. Start scheduling breaks, purchase equipment and supplies that reduce your musculoskeletal stresses, quit working 9-plus hours a day or shorten your work week. Be kind to yourself, create a new comfort zone and give yourself the gift of health. RDH
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.