Support self-care to sustain your most important assets: Your hygienists

October 28, 2019
Dr. Bethany Valachi, PT, MS, CEAS
Dr. Bethany Valachi, PT, MS, CEAS

Dr. Bethany Valachi, PT, DPT, MS, CEAS is DPR’s ergonomics editor and author of the book,“Practice Dentistry Pain-Free” and clinical instructor of ergonomics at OHSU School of Dentistry in Portland, Ore. She is also the author of the evidence-based "Online Dental Ergonomic & Wellness System for Dental Professionals." A physical therapist who has worked exclusively with dental professionals for more than 15 years, she is recognized internationally as an expert in dental ergonomics, and has been invited to lecture at more than 300 conferences worldwide. She has published more than 50 articles in peer-reviewed dental journals and has developed patient positioning and exercise DVDs specifically for dental professionals. Bethany offers free newsletters, articles, videos and product reviews on her website at and can be reached at

Merideth Sweeney, BHSc, RDH

Merideth Sweeney, BHSc RDH is a practicing clinical hygienist in Southern California.  She has been in the dental field for 20 years and is a graduate of the Cerritos College Dental Hygiene Program.  Her professional passion is advocating for the prevention of MSD’s through evidence-based ergonomics.  She is actively pursuing an additional master's degree in healthcare administration through Excelsior College.

Dental Products Report, Dental Products Report November 2019, Volume 53, Issue 11

How self-care is more than just a ‘buzzword’ and why it’s important for hygienists.

Dear Bethany: My dental hygienist is asking for a few extra minutes between each patient to engage in self-care. Isn’t this just a new buzzword for taking a break?

Dear Doctor: Actually, the ancient Greeks were masters of self-care or philautia long before the concept went viral on social media. I highly advocate for the ability of all hygienists and all staff members to partake in intermittent self-care breaks throughout the day.
The cumulative nature of self-care is similar to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)-however daily self-care promotes higher productivity, comfort, and quality of life. Meanwhile, daily microtrauma on the body could end a career!  
The impact of team members neglecting self-care has far-reaching implications for the dentist. For example, a dental practice’s bottom line suffers when your hygienist misses work because of musculoskeletal pain:

  • Over $1,500/day in lost productivity

  • Temporary RDHs are more expensive

  • Patient treatment is not as effective with temporary RDHs

  • The dentist’s Workers Comp premiums can skyrocket when claims are made

The front office generally controls a hygienist’s schedule. Therefore, completing countless daunting tasks while needing to maintain a structured, time-efficient atmosphere is a constant challenge. Also, they are responsible for meeting production goals and making each patient’s experience comfortable.

The obligation to be a courteous and professional team player while continuously striving for optimal patient outcomes in a fast-paced, environment can cause mental and physical exhaustion. A hygienist requires the need to take micro-breaks because tomorrow will be a rinse and repeat of yesterday, with unquestionably a few surprises and multiple schedule changes at a moment’s notice.
Why should you empower and motivate your staff members to care for their overall well-being?  Because studies show, stress reduction through self-care leads to higher production and delivery of optimal customer care1. Also, self-care results in less employee absenteeism, which reduces the business’ financial liability. Research shows that U.S. employers lost $530 billion in 2017 du e to acute illness, chronic conditions, and workers’ compensation claims2. Investing in your team’s satisfaction is investing in your patient’s satisfaction.
Every day, many hygienists place an extreme physical toll on their mind and body (Figs. 1-2). The body is faithful until it breaks. But as we age, the body can no longer adapt to the pain, high stress, or improper ergonomics. The complete elimination of mistreatment of our bodies is not realistic; however, practicing mindful awareness when retreating to detrimental behavior patterns, and choosing the best self-care practices from here forward can assist the body with therapeutic repairs.

What can you do to optimize your teams’ musculoskeletal health?

  • Provide chairside stretching wall charts (see ErgoVault, details below)

  • Ask the front office to avoid scheduling heavy calculus patients back-to-back

  • Provide access to evidence-based ergonomic videos and articles.

  • Implement an ergonomic incentive program: offer to pay a certain percentage for ergonomic loupes for the hygienist. Then kick back $200/year for each year after.

Many of the above resources are accessible in Dr. Valachi’s ErgoVault, which contains a plethora of research-based dental ergonomic resources, including chairside stretching wall charts, eBook, ergonomic videos,  and much more. To access Dr. Valachi’s ErgoVault, visit

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