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Have you recently been to your state dental meeting or perhaps a national meeting like the ADHA or ADA meeting? You will notice that there are numerous purveyors of dental office cabinets, sterilization stations, patient chairs and operator stools. For years now, studies have been conducted on the ergonomics of the operator stool. Just a small sampling of the stool offerings range from a 2 ft square seat pad which cants forward or cants backward, a seat pad shaped like a T, a raised saddle with a supportive back, a raised saddle without a back, a saddle, a round flat seat. The possibilities are nearly endless. How is it that I continue to see discarded, broken down front office stools being fobbed off on the hygiene team?

Couple this with the occasional treatment areas which are carpeted or partially carpeted. I usually see a plastic mat placed under the operator stool but they are never big enough for full range of motion around the chair. The operator must roll up onto the mat using some force to make the edge. What happens to the hygienist’s hip joints as she pushes a business chair with poor casters over the carpet, over a seam in the flooring and around some poorly placed electrical/plumbing set up for the patient chair?

The positioning of the hygienist is generally unnatural since the human body is not meant to sit with legs in a wide open stance for this amount of time. The body is usually canted up onto the right hip to gain better access to the patient’s mouth. I recall numerous dental assistants relating to me how they could never be a hygienist because the work is so monotonous. Indeed, sitting in virtually one position for approximately 40 minutes of every hour while applying intense pressure to one millimeter of tooth surface has much less position variation than pulling teeth, prepping for a crown or seating a new 7 unit bridge with implants.

What are the long-term effects on a hygienist’s hip joints? It is short-sighted to hire a skilled hygienist to provide excellent care to patients without making an investment in the operator stool. It is foolish to continue to work in the above described poor working conditions if you intend to make a career of dental hygiene. It requires the purchase of necessary and safe equipment and sometimes, the hygienist may have to make the purchase of said equipment to safeguard hips (neck, lower back, mid back, etc). May I make a recommendation? At your next national meeting, seek out Crown Seating. The company offers information on ergonomics and the very best advice for a seated career in hygiene.

Whether you’re an individual looking to take the next step in your dental hygiene career or a team wanting to strengthen your practice, contact Leslie Neveu for informed and compassionate consulting. For dental hygiene professionals in Canada and the U.S., contact Leslie Neveu today.