The biggest ergonomic mistakes dental professionals make

August 27, 2014

In part two of Dental Product Report's three-part series on ergonomics, Betty Ladley Finkbeiner, CDA - Emeritus, BS, MS, provides tips on ergonomic concepts and motion economy to decrease stress and increase productivity. Check out Part 1 and Part 3  of the series for more insight into ergonomic practices and benefits.

In part two of Dental Product Report's three-part series on ergonomics, Betty Ladley Finkbeiner, CDA - Emeritus, BS, MS, provides tips on ergonomic concepts and motion economy to decrease stress and increase productivity.

Check out Part 1 and Part 3  of the series for more insight into ergonomic practices and benefits.

If someone told you that you could increase the productivity of your practice by 33% or more, would you be interested? Early studies done by the federal government decades ago, at the cost of millions of dollars, proved this remarkable result.

Over the years, however, some of the principles have been lost or diminished. Schools such as the University of Alabama, Kentucky, Michigan, and North Carolina researched ergonomics and applied these concepts to the practice of dentistry. Since funding ended in 1986, few dental schools have carried on the concepts of ergonomics and increased productivity.

Related reading: Part 1: Avoiding injury with ergonomics

Success from these early studies was accomplished by the use of ergonomic practice. Perhaps now is the time to review these early studies and renew the need to practice ergonomics as first designed for dentistry. Too often, dentists and manufacturers have overlooked some of these concepts. True four-handed dentistry, combined with proven ergonomic concepts, can result in working smarter, more comfortably, and with increased productivity.

Related reading: Part 3: The economics of ergonomics

The following are the major issues that can cause back, neck and other musculoskeletal issues.

The equipment must be ergonomically designed to minimize unnecessary motion. This means the dental chair must have a narrow back free of adjustment knobs, enabling the dentist and assistant close access to the patient. When a dental chair is used with wide wings, this moves the dentist and assistant away from the patient and causes them undue stress to easily reach the oral cavity.

The patient must be placed in supine position with the operating team seated in ergonomically designed equipment. The dental assistant must have access to the dental unit and have equipment that is easily adjustable for all heights and conditions at chairside.

The assistant should not have to turn and reach for instruments and should be able to keep his or her eyes on the operating site. The dentist, at the same time, should be able to work alone or rely on the assistant to provide the needed instruments, materials, or air to clear the site for treatment without the need to turn or reach for a needed instrument or material.

The dentist and assistant must practice motion economy. A Class I movement is a “fingers only” movement. This classification goes all the way to the shoulder and twisted torso, resulting in a Class V movement. This means that the instrument tray and dynamic handpieces and equipment must be close to the team to avoid any twisting or turning. When the dentist or assistant must turn or reach for an item, it takes time and causes undue stress on the body. This, in turn, delays progress and can cause loss of chair time and productivity.

Huge rewards result when practicing ergonomic concepts and motion economy. With the selection of the proper equipment; correct positioning of instrument trays, equipment and the dental team; and practicing motion economy, stress can be decreased and productivity increased.

Editor’s Note: References available upon request.