The average undergraduate dental program lasts 4 short years. During this time period, an astounding array of topics are introduced and memorized.
Understandably, the studying of the biomedical sciences is given top priority. After all, without a working knowledge of anatomy, biochemistry, histology, microbiology, pharmacology and so on, a new practitioner wouldn’t be able to successfully serve his or her patients. Unfortunately, this jam-packed curriculum often creates a problem: In lieu of taking extra classes, many graduates are “left in the dark” regarding the practical elements of running a successful practice.
One of which is that of basic ergonomics and how it impacts the productivity, enjoyment and health of dentists. What exactly is ergonomics?
Put simply, it’s the interaction between man and machine – or the habitual movements, postures and actions you take everyday. And what are most dentists doing everyday?
Sitting in a chair and hunching over their patients in the most awkward of positions! As with any job requiring such precision to detail, it can be easy to forget about what the rest of your body is doing while your hands are working. But that doesn’t mean such carelessness is to be taken lightly.
According to the American Dental Association, dental practitioners who don’t adopt proper ergonomic practices are more susceptible to repetitive stress injuries, musculoskeletal discomfort and headaches. Besides taking routine breaks to stretch over-worked muscles, the ADA suggests outfitting your operatory with ergonomically designed furnishings and equipment. When designing your next office, you can incorporate the following ergonomic elements for increased health and comfort:
1. A good operator stool with adjustable seating. Options may include saddle stools, contoured seats and/or ball chairs. Such designs naturally encourage good posture and support dynamic movements.
2. Should you desire more traditional lower-back support, look for a chair with unobtrusive armrests and elevated seating. The ideal posture allows a back/hip angle of approximately 90 degrees.
3. Patient chairs with thin, tapered backs that allow easy access to the oral cavity, while providing you with neutral balance (ie. head over shoulders, shoulders over hips and arms relaxed at the sides).
4. As handpiece usage comprises less than 10 percent of average procedure times, place instruments in unobtrusive places, preferably over the patient and over the head.
5. A sterilization sequence that works in conjunction with your resupply and stocking stations. Such attention to detail can reduce labor in a typical 10-chair practice by as much as one full employee equivalent, thus reducing turnaround times.
As you can see, achieving optimal ergonomics is a balancing act between the comfort of the patient and practitioner. Thankfully, relaxation for both parties can be achieved with careful planning, smart design and the development of good postural habits.
While isolated ergonomic practices are useful, it’s important to remember they are just a small part of a much bigger picture: Your primary goal of creating an enjoyable, efficient and rewarding work experience. And, at its most practical level, that begins with smart workflow design.