The term self-care gets thrown around a lot these days. Perhaps, for good reason. Too often those who are charged with caring for others neglect to take care of themselves. Dental hygienists are no exception. So, how can we be mindful of our overall health in order to be at our best, especially since we play such a vital role in the success of the practices we support?
Here are pointers I’ve found helpful for myself and other hygienists.
Who would have thought that alternating between running from operatory to sterilization and bending over a patient for 8-10 hours a day would be taxing on the human body?
The fix: Evaluate proper body ergonomics and ergonomic equipment, stretch and engage in physical activity to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Ergonomics – An ergonomic evaluation should include everything from the use of loupes to wheelchair accessible dental chairs.
Get a clinical buddy who you can depend on to remind you when you’re losing your proper positioning. My buddy (Donna Ballard, CRDH) and I would say to each other, “I see you hunching,” as we walked by the other’s room. That verbal reminder was exactly what I needed. Also, products like Happynecks® headrests, booster seats and supports are designed to get both adults and pediatric patients in the correct position to avoid clinician strain.
If your patient demographic consists of a large number of wheelchair-bound patients, consider wheelchair accessible dental chairs. While these can be pricey, it’s an investment worth exploring to contribute to a physically healthy staff. Perhaps your team can make it a production goal. Chairs like the Compact Wheelchair Recliner™ by Design Specific® are remote operated providing ease of use for the operator. Loupe manufactures such as Designs for Vision®, Orascoptic®, SurgiTel® and SheerVision® all boast lightweight options.
If you notice workplace conditions that contribute to physical strain or burnout, communicate your concerns with your supervisor. Propose modifications that could improve your working environment.
Stay Physically Active – Everyone’s level of movement is different, but the point is to move your body regularly. How often do you stretch before, after and between patients? If you’re not sure which stretches you should do, apps like Stretchit®, Stretch & Flexibility at Home®, Start Stretching® and ROMWOD® offer stretching exercises and techniques for all physicality levels (priced free to $19.99 a month). Additionally, engaging in regular core exercises can help strengthen the muscles in the abdomen, lower back and pelvis, improving posture and providing stability to the spine.
Why not implement team stretching in your morning huddle or a Pilates session during your next quarterly meeting?
A hygienist I’ve worked with in the past has been practicing for 45 years. She is semi-retired now, but still does temp work to stay busy. She took a walk and/or stretched on her lunch break EVERY DAY. Penny Rix, RDH, you’re my hero!
Lifestyle adjustments – A well-balanced diet, adequate sleep, and proper hydration are crucial for maintaining overall health and well-being. Avoid excessive caffeine and sugar intake, as they can negatively impact energy levels and mood. Mindfulness techniques like deep breathing and meditation can also help reduce stress and improve focus.
Mental fatigue is not a result of personal weakness, but it can upset a person’s ability to handle daily demands. A day in the life of a hygienist is highly demanding.
The fix: Thorough chart prepping, continuing education, taking PTO and setting boundaries.
Individualized Treatment – Preparing each chart carefully and comprehensively will ensure that each patient appointment is not exactly the same. Even goodie bags, or oral health kits as I like to call them, can be customized and unique to each patient. By treatment planning well in advance and working to individualize our conversations with patients we can have a clinical day full of variety.
Continual Professional Development – Engage in ongoing education and professional development to stay up-to-date with the latest advancements in dental hygiene. Expanding your knowledge and skill set can boost confidence and job satisfaction.
Is there a course or a new product that you feel will directly benefit your patients? Sign up now! Talk to your teammates and dentists about how this can not only improve patient care, but boost production. New licenses or degrees can set you up for both immediate and future career growth.
Establish a strong support system, both personally and professionally. Share your experiences, challenges, and concerns with trusted colleagues or mentors. Consider joining professional organizations or online communities where you can connect with peers facing similar challenges.
RDH Connect, for example, is designed to bring the community of Dental Hygienists together and support one another.
Unwind and Set Boundaries – Paid time off was designed for a reason. Gone are the days of feeling guilty for taking time to recharge. Discuss in advance with your employer or supervisors how time off will be covered. When the time comes, all parties will be at ease with your absence. And while getting a temp to fill in can be difficult, perhaps interviewing one or two long before one is needed will further help the team during times of leave.
Establish clear boundaries between work and personal life. Be aware of your mental health and seek support, if needed. This may include talking to a therapist or counselor, or participating in stress management programs. Develop coping strategies for dealing with stress and prioritize activities that promote mental well-being, such as engaging in hobbies or practicing mindfulness. Apps like Thrive Global® and Calm® have easy pointers and techniques on how to manage emotions and take charge of mental wellness.
Always remember, my fellow hygienists, taking care of your physical, mental, and emotional health is not only essential for your own well-being, but also enables you to provide better care to your patients. Good health to you!