H.E.L.P! Hygiene Ergonomics, Loving Practice

Hygiene Edge is excited to announce a guest contributor- Willi Nixon Fuller, RDH. She has an amazing experience of how ergonomics changed her way of practicing and we're excited to have her share her secrets.


Let me first tell you about my personal story, and passion of ergonomics. I have been practicing as a hygienist for a short 4 years, and I've unfortunately learned the hard way how important ergonomics are to prolonging my career.

In my first year of practice, I experienced:

- Dislocation of the 3rd rib from the sternum

- Curving in my shoulders

- Midback pain

- A pulled psoas muscles lining my spine

All of these injuries manifested themselves while I was doing something else: skiing, lifting something while turning, running, ect. Each injury was very slow to heal because it coincidentally was the exact muscles I use to turn towards my instrument tray while working on a patient, or the rib that was affected most by my right hand instrumentation. I soon realized that my repetitive motions in the office are what caused my injuries, not the other way around.

Over the next 3 years, I worked hard to heal my body and keep it healthy through a combination of exercise and muscle therapy. I recognized that in order to have a long and enjoyable career, I needed to invest time and attention to my body.

How does it feel?

60% of hygienists complain of neck pain, which shoulder pain close behind. Over a third suffer from lower back pain, while 27% have mid to upper back pain, and pain in their hands. Work related pain can extend to the hip flexor muscle (psoas major) lining the inner lower spine, elbow, or wrist pain from tendonitis, and rounding of the shoulders. Whether it is continuous back pain or musculoskeletal pain, surveys show around 78% of hygienists experience work related pain on a fairly regular basis.

I Feel Fine

What are the results of chronic occupational pain?

- Dissatisfaction with daily tasks

- Discomfort at work and at home

- Shortened career

- Shortened work days

- Slower at completing hygiene duties

- Unable to continue physical hobbies

All I've Got To Do

So, is it hopeless? Should we all just recognize that we chose the wrong career for having a strong, comfortable body? Absolutely not. Let's start with a checklist of things we can do to improve ergonomics.

1. Invest in loupes and a light- they will help you sit up straight.

2. Use your loupes and light with every patient.

3. Begin a daily exercise routine, focusing on core and back strength.

4. Stretch 10 minutes before and after every work day.

5. Stretch for 1 minute between patients.

6. Lower your shoulders.

7. Use indirect vision when necessary rather than leaning/twisting.

8. Ask your patient to turn their head for visibility. They don't mind!

9. Visit the chiropractor once a month- don't wait for something to hurt first.

10. Find a massage therapist and go once a month.

I Want to Hold Your Hand

I can't stress enough how these simple changes in my daily practice changed my life. If there was a way I could check up on every hygienist and hold them responsible for taking care of their body, I'd do it. If there is ANY take away form this, let it be:

1. Find a massage therapist with a focus in deep tissue muscular therapy, and get a massage once a month. Ask a chiropractor or physical therapist for references of a good massage therapist. I cannot emphasize enough how important massage is. It will cost about $50 a month, but it will allow you to work more hours in comfort, for a much longer career. IT'S WORTH IT. 

2. Stretch and Exercise regularly.

Carry That Weight

Back exercises to be done 3x per week:

- Dead lift 15 sets of 5 reps

- Dead row 15 sets of 5 reps

- Clean and press 5 sets of 3

- Seated row 15 sets of 5 reps

Yoga poses to strengthen and stretch- 10 minutes before and after every work day

- Downward dog

- Cobra or up dog

- Child's pose

- Triangle pose

- Cat/cow sequence

- Forward Fold

1 minute stretch between patients- Any type of stretch that opens the chest, the hips, or elongates the forearm muscles. 30 seconds on each side. Alternate focus area between patients.


Willi Nixon Fuller, RDH- I’ve been practicing as a Dental Hygienist since 2011 with Mountain View Dental Care - general dentistry.  In addition to my role as a dental hygienist, I am the marketing director for my office. Along with maximizing SEO, I created our interactive website and connect with patients on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, and our Blog to provide them with new information about dentistry.  

I'm happiest when I'm exploring Salt Lake’s beautiful canyons through running, hiking, and skiing.