Ergonomics in the practice goes beyond the dental chairNews
Posted by: The Probe 13th September 2020
Good ergonomics is a key issue for ensuring the physical health, safety, and wellbeing of practitioners. In a 2014 paper about ergonomics in the dental practice, the authors define ergonomics as “the science of fitting the task to human capabilities and limitation in order to improve workplace safety and productivity”.[i] The authors also explore the importance of posture and other methods to “ergonomise” the dental environment, so people can work there with “comfort, efficiency and ease”.
There are specific ergonomic risk factors related to dentists and the dental team, and there is plenty of research setting out the various preventive measures that should be taken to avoid them developing a painful musculoskeletal disorder (MSD).[ii] In any article about stress in dentistry, MSDs are always mentioned. Physical pain and stress are closely intertwined; one will exacerbate the other, sometimes to a catastrophic effect. A dentist being in poor physical health, due to a painful MSD, can lead to them needing time off, having to reduce their working hours, or even consider leaving the profession entirely through early retirement, for example. If you have suffered yourself, you will know the impact it has on your productivity. A painful MSD will affect life outside work and limit the activities that you can do comfortably in your downtime as well – this is often the tipping point. Of course, due to the nature of dental activity, all the risk factors cannot be eliminated entirely. However, practitioners will expect their principal to have done all they can to mitigate them, to create the optimal work environment.
MSDs include neck, back and arm pain or strain, also diseases of the joints. Strained posture as well as prolonged repetitive movements can induce MSDs and these are relevant to everyday dentistry.[iii] A common MSD suffered by dentists is carpal tunnel syndrome, which is pressure on a nerve in the wrist, and it is commonly caused by repetitive hand movements. Other painful disorders that can affect dental practitioners if they don’t work in an ergonomically friendly environment include back injuries and repetitive strain injuries, or RSIs.
So, how can the risk factors be mitigated? Recently, you may have had the design of your practice and surgeries reconfigured, to create more room for social distancing. It is certainly a good thing that even the smallest practices have been forced to think about how they use the space available to them. You must also ensure that the surgery you work in allows you to adopt comfortable positions and maintain good posture. If it is used by multiple practitioners, it must tick the same boxes for everyone who uses it. Plenty of room to move and stretch is essential as is taking breaks and, if possible, having some variety in the tasks you are performing over the course of your working day. Scheduling is another element of everyday dentistry that every practice has had to look at this year, with less patients booked in per day, to allow for fallow time and deep cleaning between appointments. If you were previously used to seeing patients back-to-back, a different schedule should be seen as an opportunity to release any muscle tension. When it comes to repetitive tasks, a dentist may be able to share some of these with another member of the dental team, or even get assistance from one of the latest innovations in dental technology. Equipment must be handled correctly, and training provided, along with ongoing reviews of risk assessment. It is crucial that principals take the issue of ergonomics seriously, as part of supporting the physical and mental wellbeing of their team. But practitioners must recognise and identify their own “postures, practicing positions (and) equipment usage patterns associated with increased risks of experiencing musculoskeletal pain and discomfort”.[iv] This is important for “neutralising ergonomic habits and work environment layouts” that could impact on, and even shorten, their clinical career.[v]
Suppliers of modern dental units like to boast about how the systems have been ergonomically designed, with multiple configurations and options for the patient’s and the practitioner’s comfort. But the instruments you choose to use must also be selected for optimum ergonomics. When a dental instrument is comfortable to hold and use, the patient’s all-round experience is elevated. Ergonomics has been a guiding principal of product development at LM, makers of industry-leading instruments. Supplied by J&S Davis in the UK, its range includes the LM-Arte sequence (for aesthetic composite restorations) and the LM Syntette Anterior and Posterior solutions. They all feature LM-ErgoSense handle, which was rated the highest for ergonomics in studies by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health. Ergonomically designed instruments mean great handling, enabling you to work quickly and achieve successful clinical outcomes.
Comfortable working means less stress and a more productive practice. As well as your use of space, and larger pieces of dental equipment, you should ensure every tool you use optimises ergonomics – in challenging times, a practice retaining its talented, dedicated team has never been more crucial.
Author: Steve Brown Director of Sales and Marketing J&S Davis Ltd
[i] Shah AF, Tangade P, Batra M, Kabasi S. Ergonomics in dental practice. Int J Dent Health Sci. 2014;1(1):68-78.
[ii] De Sio S, Traversini V, Rinaldo F, Colasanti V, Buomprisco G, Perri R, Mormone F, La Torre G, Guerra F. Ergonomic risk and preventive measures of musculoskeletal disorders in the dentistry environment: an umbrella review. PeerJ. 2018 Jan 15 ;6: e4154.
[iii] Custódio RA, Silva CE, Brandão JG. Ergonomics work analysis applied to dentistry – a Brazilian case study. Work. 2012 Jan 1;41 (Supplement 1): 690-7.
[iv] Rucker LM, Sunell S. Ergonomic risk factors associated with clinical dentistry. Journal of the California Dental Association. 2002 Feb 1; 30(2): 139-48.
[v] Journal of the California Dental Association. 2002 Feb 1; 30(2): 139-48.
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