Digging past positioning: Hydration, sleep, and sharp instruments influence ergonomic health too


By Nicole Giesey, RDH, MSPTE

Good ergonomics has been a hot topic for all of us since the day we started dental hygiene school. Practicing good ergonomics daily will not only create a safe environment for you to work but will also keep you healthy in your everyday life. Excellent ergonomics is about more than positioning. It is a science that includes not only the hygienist but also the physical things that surround him or her. There are so many factors that contribute to excellent ergonomics. We will discuss three contributing factors that may not be considered in the typical daily practice of ergonomics.

First, let’s define exactly what the term means. Webster defines ergonomics as an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely.1 Besides positioning and posture, how can we reassess the fundamentals to ensure our bodies and our most valued instruments are ready for the tasks at hand? Here are a few important but undervalued things that might slip under the radar:

  • Proper hydration
  • Healthy sleep
  • Instrument sharpness

Yes, the scope of these three fundamentals is broad, but they can be easily and quickly manipulated to boost your ergonomics.

Ergonomics can be broken into two parts. The two main ingredients are the person and the things he or she uses. Now that it is broken into two, let’s relate the science of ergonomics to our practice of dental hygiene. Dental hygienists are so unique. We are the most amazing multitaskers: we make schedules, please people, scale, polish, practice infection control, take medical histories, assess patients, produce – it is no wonder while wearing all of these hats we forget about the most important person in the equation: ourselves. One easy task we can start is to be sure we stay properly hydrated. How does this relate to ergonomics? Dehydration, which is so easy to achieve throughout our busy days, hugely affects ergonomics.

Chronic dehydration

Dehydration can lead to bad moods, low energy, bad breath, headaches, dry skin, dark urine, sugar cravings, and muscle cramping, according to the Mayo Clinic.2 In order to stay hydrated, the Mayo Clinic recommends nine cups of fluid a day for women and 13 cups of fluid a day for men.2

So, how does this play a role in ergonomics? Proper hydration will ensure you are energized, alert, and not distracted by headaches and muscle aches. Our job is so physical. Having muscle aches while maintaining proper posture makes it all the more difficult. Not being able to focus properly can put you and your patient at risk during scaling and medical history review. Low energy can lead to slumped positioning, which in turn will contribute to muscle aches and back aches. If this is a chronic habit, it may cut your practicing days down over time. Some problems, like this one, can be easily fixed.

Of course this is not the case for everything,…

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