This year, we may spend 1500 operatory hours contorted in a position that defies the laws of nature. On an average clinical day, we sit in a rigid posture that contracts 50% of our musculature to keep us from falling forward. Simultaneously, our neck muscles hold a 12-pound bowling ball from dropping. In fact, when we tilt forward 30 degrees, the weight increases to 40 pounds. And a series of tensed muscles from our fingers to our skull’s base direct micro-movements with exceptional precision.
Combine the ingredients, and you have a recipe for an ergonomic disaster.
The strain that clinical dentistry places on our bodies doesn’t appear overnight. The cumulative effects build as the years unfold. But 92% of clinicians report musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) symptoms, and hygienists are the most affected. When we feel a sore neck, aching back, or cramping hands at the end of a long day, we often brush it off. But the toll cuts into our careers, enjoyment, and productivity.
What does it cost us?
Labs, landlords, and suppliers don’t wait for payments when ergonomic injuries derail our productivity. Repetitive physical stress may send warning signals, but critical breaking points take many of our colleagues by surprise. OSHA reports that the average cost from one incident of ergonomic injuries like sprains, strains, and carpal tunnel syndrome exceeds $30,000. But the real cost reverberates across our practices. If one staff member is out with a back injury, the workload increases for everyone else. If you, I, or our valued hygienists go down, the productivity loss begins to multiply rapidly.
But what happens if MSD symptoms bring you to a tipping point in your career? What if sitting down to cut a crown prep isn’t possible? Or our hygienist slips a disc and needs surgery? It happens more than we realize.
1 out of 3 clinicians identifies MSD as the reason for early retirement.
Repetitive stress that accumulates in our bodies may become impossible to reverse. And if we hang up our handpieces early, we could face an avalanche of complications. For some practitioners, stepping away from clinical practice doesn’t halt the chronic symptoms. Unanticipated retirement can bring more stress with financial shortfalls and a loss of purpose. And stress links to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, and more. While it’s hard to believe a chronic pain spiral begins by caring for our patients, that’s what can happen for one-third of us.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Our Day Starts From The Ground Up
The time we spend over patients starts in a chair. Most of us learned to sit with our thighs parallel to the floor. Early operator chairs included a flat, fixed seating surface, and many practices still use this outdated design. At first glance, this position seems acceptable, but something detrimental happens when we position ourselves this way.
With our thighs parallel to the floor on a flat seat, the pelvis rolls backward and flattens the low back curve. Research shows that lumbar curve flattening strains our spinal musculature and discs.
Simple changes, including positioning our hips higher than our knees, corrects critical postural angles. In turn, this alteration helps maintain a proper lumbar curve and decreases strain on muscles and discs. But raising a chair with a flat seat compresses the back of the thighs and causes further stress. If the chair design doesn’t support the increased height, more problems develop.
Only 60% of clinicians can describe the right ergonomics for dentistry, but 74% report MSD symptoms.
We spend hours analyzing the best CBCT imaging system or digital scanner to purchase. But we don’t usually think much about the operatory chair we’ll be in for the next eight hours. The foundation we deliver care from could affect the margin on our eMax crown. It will likely affect how much we enjoy the procedure. And it can affect the longevity of our career.
As clinicians, we need to take a hard look at the chairs each member of the clinical team uses day after day. These tools rank as a low-cost item relative to other things with our reach. But nothing influences our clinical careers more.
Simplify your choice.
We choose quality materials, equipment, and techniques for every part of our practice. We appreciate companies that do the research and development to provide an exceptional handpiece or composite.
Choosing operator chairs shouldn’t be any different.
The Brewer company brought years of experience to the dental profession in the 1980s: Their commitment to healthcare and the wellbeing of patients and clinicians stretches back to 1947. As clinicians, we can trust they’ve done the research and development to put us in the right chairs and help us enjoy fulfilling careers on our terms. Consider just one of their ergonomic products and what it can mean for your entire clinical team.
Discover the 9500 Series Premium Ergonomic Seating
This exceptional operating chair combines ergonomics and comfort. Here’s just a glimpse at what you’ll find:
- 3rd generation Dynamic Motion Technology engages the core and helps strengthen back muscles, comfort, and stamina.
- Wrap-around support with a low-profile, adjustable backrest adjusts with the touch of a finger.
- Ideal weight distribution and pelvic tilt with a broad range of motion support natural flow.
- Saddle-style seat with HybriGel Foam offers exceptional pressure distribution and cooling.
- Flexible waterfall seat front supports ideal leg angulation and comfort.
The 9500 Series includes chairs for dentists and hygienists, along with a model designed for assistants. Left and right body support options allow assistants to deliver care with greater comfort and less stress.
Brewer also offers three other lines of premium, advanced ergonomic seating: the 9000, 9100 and 9200 series of dental stools.
Dramatically Lower the Real Cost
Our profession extracts a price on our bodies while we’re taking care of others. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, hygiene and dentistry rank as the two most dangerous occupations to health. In a COVID-19 world, we’ll stay entrenched at the top of the list for now. But ergonomic damage also pushes our long-term risk ahead of firefighters, construction workers, and truck drivers.
Make 2021 the year to look out for yourself and your clinical team with better ergonomics. Start with seating that protects your body and guards against MSDs. Then evaluate lighting, magnification, and positioning. Your back, neck, team, and retirement account will thank you!
Dr. Greg Grillo is the senior partner of Grillo Robeck Dental, an innovative general practice in Washington state. By managing the patient experience and incorporating comprehensive clinical techniques, Dr. Grillo directed more than 200% growth in his practice over the last decade. As a content developer, clinician, and consultant, he combines 25 years of experience with a formal background in psychology and copywriting. Dr. Grillo currently provides expertise to manufacturers, clinicians, marketing agencies, and software companies worldwide.