Workplace ergonomics

Approaches to improving ergonomics and wellness

How can comprehensive evidence-based ergonomic and wellness techniques be incorporated into the practice setting?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines ergonomics as "the science of fitting workplace conditions and job demands to the capabilities of the working population." Within the dental practice workplace, this largely includes considerations for ideal posture, movement and positioning during dental procedures to avoid discomfort and injuries, but also includes considerations for the front office design. Ergonomics should be a part of a larger wellness program within the dental office that supports physical, financial and mental health well-being.

What are some ergonomic considerations when purchasing dental equipment?

  • What type of operator stool should I select based on my height, lumbar curvature, gender and body size?
  • How can I economically make ergonomic modifications to my operatory?
  • What style of backrest is best for preventing back pain?
  • Are my loupes improving or hurting the health of my neck?
  • How can I easily maintain optimal posture while treating the upper arch?
  • Do certain delivery systems promote movement that leads to shoulder pain?
  • What is the best clock position to treat certain tooth surfaces?

What are some techniques to improve ergonomics?

Chairside stretching can help correct any muscle imbalances, restore full range of motion and safely prepare your muscles for strengthening. It is important not to undertake muscle-strengthening exercises until muscles are pain-free and have a full range of motion to not exacerbate pains or tear muscles. Pinpoint the triggers of pain first, if any. A number of new videos and tips from the ADA can support chairside stretching, either individually or as part of a team-wellness daily exercise.

Beyond physical pain, what are some of the other impacts of poor ergonomics?

Dentists experiencing pain from poor ergonomics are affected in many ways beyond the immediate suffering injuries may cause. As a practice owner, the impacts on employees can also affect you, including workers compensation claims and high turnover.

What are some techniques to mitigate the physical impacts of increased Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)?

Heavy mask wearing can be uncomfortable, but dentists also are reporting increased incidence of work-related physical pain, including headaches, dizziness, fatigue, dehydration and over-heating as well as sore shoulders and neck pain. Many of these symptoms can be linked to mouth and stress breathing rather than using a nose and relaxed breathing style. This can result in faster, shallower breathing that changes CO2 levels and induces these symptoms. Relaxed breathing is slow, deep, soft and done through the nose and abdomen. This proper style of breathing down-regulates the sympathetic nervous system and prevents stress-induced pain symptoms by keeping the posture and muscles relaxed while taking in the maximum amount of airflow. Try some breathing exercises to activate your relaxation response and ensure the best breathing techniques to mitigate the impacts of heavy PPE. Several new tools from the ADA at offer breathing exercises and other relaxation approaches.

This program is brought to you in part by a grant from Crest + Oral-B