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Wellness Unveiled: A Dental Hygienist’s Guide to Self-Care

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Article

While striving for a fulfilling and sustainable career in dental hygiene, it’s critical to adopt daily habits that prioritize holistic well-being.

Wellness Unveiled: A Dental Hygienist’s Guide to Self-Care | Image Credit: © Fotema – stock.adobe.com

Wellness Unveiled: A Dental Hygienist’s Guide to Self-Care | Image Credit: © Fotema – stock.adobe.com

In the demanding world of dentistry, the toll on dental hygienists’ physical, mental, and emotional well-being is significant. Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), chronic pain, stress, and burnout are alarmingly prevalent among dental professionals. Because of their risk, dental professionals should reevaluate their daily habits to protect both their health and career longevity.

Dental professionals face a much higher risk for developing an MSD than most professions. Studies show that up to 97% of dental professionals experience pain throughout their careers, with nearly 59% of dental professionals reporting pain in the past year.¹⁻² Because of the daunting statistics and risk factors dental professionals face, many clinicians believe work-related pain is inevitable. However, many things can be done in and out of the operatory to combat the risk of pain and injuries among dental professionals.

In addition to the pain that many dental professionals face, reports also show that 80% of dental professionals feel higher levels of stress at work.³ Dental professionals are often faced with high pressure, time and scheduling challenges, demanding patients, and interpersonal conflicts combined with high levels of focus and concentration. Chronic work-related stress that dental professionals sometimes face relates to anxiety, depression, fatigue, musculoskeletal issues, sleep issues, memory problems, and burnout.

With a higher risk of injury, pain, stress, and burnout, dental professionals should find ways to prioritize their health to prevent issues from arising. This article aims to be a guide for a holistic approach, advocating for daily practices that prioritize the well-being of dental hygienists. By integrating a mindful morning routine, emphasizing ergonomics, embracing mindfulness practices, and incorporating self-care techniques, hygienists can reshape the way they work, which in turn positively impacts their health and the way they feel.

Morning Routine for Optimized Well-Being
A morning routine is the foundation upon which a good day is built, and it can be a powerful tool in reducing the risk of pain, injury, stress, and burnout. Science shows that a morning routine reduces stress and improves sleep, productivity, energy, and confidence.

There are many things that dental professionals can integrate to create a powerful and effective morning routine. Below are a few options that dental clinicians should consider to improve their health and overall well-being.

Yoga/stretching exercises:Begin the day with a series of simple stretches to awaken muscles, alleviate tension accumulated from the previous day, and enhance flexibility. These stretches not only prepare the body for the physical demands ahead but also contribute to a heightened sense of well-being. These exercises can be done in bed, standing, or on a yoga mat.

Breathing techniques: Incorporate deep breathing exercises into a morning routine to increase oxygen flow, promote alertness, and reduce stress. A few moments of intentional breathing can set a positive tone for the day, fostering mental clarity and resilience.

Phone-free time: The way we start the day is so important. Dental professionals should consider creating a buffer of phone-free time in the morning to shield themselves from the immediate demands and stresses that our phones often bring. Easing into the day with a sense of calm and focus helps cultivate a mindful start from the beginning.

Hydration and nutrition: Prioritize hydration and nourishment with a glass of water and a nutrient-rich breakfast in the morning. Hydrating the body and providing it with essential nutrients not only sustains energy levels throughout the day but also supports overall health.

Meditation: Dental professionals can wrap up their morning routine with a brief meditation session. This practice sets a positive mindset, fostering mental resilience and emotional balance. Even just a few minutes of meditation can contribute significantly to overall well-being.

Ergonomics: Crafting a Comfortable Workspace
Ergonomics, the science of designing the workplace to fit the worker, plays a pivotal role in the physical health and pain prevention of dental hygienists. One study shows that incorporating ergonomic tools and principles can reduce the risk of injury and pain.⁴ Below are a few ways that dental professionals can create healthier habits in the operatory, in turn supporting a long-lasting career in dentistry.

Practitioner and patient chair positioning: Practitioners should ensure maintaining a neutral posture while practicing. Ensure both your chair and the patient’s chair are positioned to support the spine, reducing the risk of musculoskeletal issues. Clinicians can use photography to evaluate their ergonomics and make adjustments as needed to optimize the workspace.

Workplace set-up: Organize tools and equipment strategically to minimize repetitive movements and strain. A well-organized workspace not only enhances efficiency and focus but also contributes to a more comfortable and productive working experience.

Regular breaks: Incorporate short breaks into your work routine for stretching, posture resets, and getting up and walking around. Taking a moment to move and stretch during the day prevents stiffness, reduces the strain on your muscles, and can help bring balance back to the body. Clinicians can do this while reviewing chart notes or waiting for a patient to arrive.

Mindfulness Practices for Stress Reduction
Stress management is a critical component of a dental hygienist’s well-being due to the nature of dental work. Because so many dental hygienists experience higher levels of stress and burnout, they need new tools that can be easily learned and implemented in their workday.

Research has shown that mindfulness practices can be a game changer for mental well-being. For dental hygienists navigating the daily stresses of patient care, incorporating mindfulness can offer tangible benefits. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce stress hormones and promote relaxation responses. It has been associated with changes to the structure and function of the brain in attention, memory, and emotional regulation. Mindfulness has been linked to improvements in cognitive function and focus.⁵ Although there are many ways that clinicians can manage stress, below are 3 simple mindfulness tools that dental professionals can use daily to get started.

Breath awareness: Practice breath awareness techniques during patient care to stay present. Focusing on the breath can help alleviate stress and enhance your ability to handle the challenges of the day. Dental professionals can simply become aware of the breath by focusing on long, slow breaths in and out.

Mindful moments: Integrate quick mindful moments between appointments throughout the day. These moments of mindfulness provide a mental reset, allowing practitioners to approach each patient interaction with renewed focus and presence. This could be a long, intentional pause before the next patient and taking 5 deep breaths.

Grounding techniques: Especially during stressful moments, hygienists can explore grounding techniques to anchor attention. Grounding brings our awareness to the present moment, reducing stress and enhancing our ability to navigate demanding situations. Simply stand with both feet firmly planted on the ground and take a few long, deep breaths.

Self-Care Techniques for Well-Being

Preventing burnout requires a commitment to self-care and acknowledging the importance of mental and emotional well-being. Most dental hygienists focus their energy on their patients and everyone around them, leaving them feeling tired, depleted, and burnt out. Because preventing stress and burnout requires a holistic approach, dental hygienists should consider incorporating a range of techniques to support their health. Below are a few additional self-care techniques to help.

Stress-relieving activities: Engage in hobbies and activities outside of work to unwind. Establishing a healthy work-life balance contributes to reduced stress and increased overall satisfaction.

Body care: Prioritize muscle relaxation and recovery after a day of patient care. Clinicians can incorporate self-care techniques such as massages, hot baths, or stretching exercises to alleviate tension and promote physical well-being.

Social connection: Cultivate social networks of support that help to maintain emotional well-being. Connecting with friends or networking with colleagues are great ways to boost energy and support mental and emotional health.

Paving a Better Way With Practitioner Well-Being
In the pursuit of a fulfilling and sustainable career in dental hygiene, adopting daily habits that prioritize holistic well-being is not just a recommendation—it’s a necessity. By integrating a mindful morning routine, prioritizing ergonomics, embracing mindfulness practices, and incorporating self-care techniques, dental hygienists can reduce the risk of pain, stress, and burnout.
This holistic approach not only transforms the way we work but also ensures we can provide high-quality care to our patients for years to come. As you embark on the journey in dental hygiene, remember your well-being is the foundation upon which a thriving and fulfilling dental practice is built.


References
1.Kumar M, Pai KM, Vineetha R. Occupation-related musculoskeletal disorders among dental professionals. Med Pharm Rep. 2020;93(4):405-409. doi:10.15386/mpr-1581
2.Hegde S, Donly A, Muttanahally K. Prevalence of musculoskeletal disorders among dental professionals—a questionaire study. Indian J Public Health. 2018;9(3):33. doi:10.5958/0976-5506.2018.00178.X
3.2021 Dentist Well-Being Survey Report. American Dental Association. February 2022. Accessed October 15, 2023. https://ebusiness.ada.org/Assets/docs/101863.pdf
4.Lietz J, Ulusoy N, Nienhaus A. Prevention of musculoskeletal diseases and pain among dental professionals through ergonomic interventions: a systematic literature review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(10):3482. doi:10.3390/ijerph17103482
5.Keng SL, Smoski MJ, Robins CJ. Effects of mindfulness on psychological health: a review of empirical studies. Clin Psychol Rev. 2011;31(6):1041-1056. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2011.04.006
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