The use of proper ergonomics includes adjusting dental hygienists’ work environments to help them be more effective and efficient, while minimizing the risk of injury. New technology has entered the dental operatory that may provide ergonomic benefits to clinicians. Some technology advancements are quite common, such as loupes, lights, ergonomic seating, and earplugs to prevent hearing loss. Others have been introduced more recently and are slowly gaining a place in clinical settings. These technology advances include incorporating electronic dental/health records, digital radiology, and use of photography for workplace evaluations.
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Electronic Health Records
The advent of the electronic health record (EHR) may help clinicians maintain proper ergonomics. The design of EHRs should enhance clinical practice, as information is presented clearly and accurately and they are simple to navigate. EHRs’ ease of use may help dental hygienists limit awkward postures and repetitive motions. The addition of foot-controlled charting and headsets can save clinicians time.
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Digital radiology can improve the safety and efficiency of the work environment in a variety of ways. First, digital radiology eliminates the need to use chemicals to develop radiographs, improving safety. Digital radiology also reduces patient exposure and processing time, allows for efficient communication of electronic information, and provides portability. The incorporation of digital radiology allows faster integration of radiographs into the patient record, enabling the ability to quickly share the data with other providers. All of these benefits improve efficiency.
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Digital impressions are a new technology that reduce the need for repetitive procedures and save time. One advancement is the use of intraoral scanners to capture optical or digital dental impressions as an alternative to conventional alginate impressions. Although these computer-aided technologies are mainly used for dental procedures, studies have shown a time efficiency benefit, as well as increased patient comfort.
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Protect Your Hearing
Noise-induced hearing loss can be an occupational hazard. There are several sources of noise in the dental setting: handpieces, ultrasonic devices, heating/air conditioning units, front office copy/fax, and sterilization equipment. The wearing of earplugs by clinicians is becoming more popular, as more research about noise and hearing loss is conducted. Hearing protection options range from custom-made earplugs obtained from an audiologist or other hearing specialist to single-use or disposable earplugs. Hearing protection strategies should be incorporated to reduce the prevalence of occupational hearing loss in oral health professionals.
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Photography can be used to evaluate clinician working posture. These photos allow clinicians to actually see their posture so they can become more aware and, hopefully, maintain proper posture throughout the workday. Partido conducted a study with dental hygiene students who used photographs to conduct ergonomic self-evaluations. Results showed improvements in their ergonomic scores and increased accuracy of their self-assessment. Photography could be used in private practice settings for periodic workplace evaluations to self-assess and work to correct poor ergonomic positioning.
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