Every dental office renovation begins with a checklist. What is wanted? What is needed? What is most important? Frequently listed items on any checklist might include lighting, new furniture, color schemes, or even a new aquarium with exotic fish for the waiting room.
However, one of the most overlooked and undervalued must-haves for any dental office redesign is ergonomics.
Every day, we are accustomed to adapting to our surroundings. We navigate around other employees. We scoot to the edge of our seats to reach the floor. We stand on our tiptoes to reach high shelves. We crane our necks to stare at computer screens. It’s normal for everybody, but it’s also risky and dangerous.
Did you know that dental care providers fall near the top of the list when it comes to experiencing musculoskeletal injuries or disorders in the workplace? Because of the nature of this career (working in tight quarters and bending at odd angles in close proximity to patients), workplace injuries seem to be just another benefit of the job. You, or someone you know, probably has experienced:
- Severe neck pain
- Shoulder pain
- Upper and/or lower back problems
- Wrist pain leading to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Arm pain
- Leg pain
These are all common injuries that most dentists or hygienists experience due to simply performing their jobs. The problem is, all of these injuries, if left untreated or uncorrected, can lead to a decrease quality of patient care, missed time from work, or more severe injuries over time. In fact, many dentists face early retirement simply due to the physical toll that excessive strain puts on their bodies while on the job.
There’s good news!
By incorporating proper ergonomic adaptations into your redesign, you can help to minimize or prevent many of these common workplace injuries. Some design/equipment elements to consider may include:
Adjustable dentist chairs and patient chairs
Be sure to consider all members of your dental team. Women typically are shorter than men, and even many common doctor’s chairs do not adequately accommodate the heights of some female doctors or hygienists. Many female dentists may naturally stand further away from their patients, so as not to learn too far over their bodies while working. It’s important that patient chairs be able to adjust to meet the unique height requirements of each member of your team.
Whether we think about it or not, the shape of our dental instruments can have a significant impact on the level of care we provide. If a drill or pick is uncomfortable to hold, or has ridged edges, then the way we grip the instruments may be compromised. If we are constantly fidgeting with these items, we are wasting valuable time and concentration that should be focused on the patient. Adjust to rounded instruments if possible.
Planning Patient Schedules
You may not even think about this but adjusting patient schedules around can also play a major role in minimizing workplace injuries. Have your scheduling team alternate scheduling difficult procedures or operations with simple cleanings or exams to eliminate excessive standing or bending over in a singular position for long periods of time.
When you’re planning a redesign of your office, think about the layout of your space. Look to space operatories or treatment rooms out appropriately so you and your team can freely move around the office. However, don’t leave so much empty space that you end up wasting time and energy just to get from place to place. The goal should be to find a functional balance that works well for everyone.
Carefully consider miscellaneous factors around your office.
How do the disposable gloves feel? Are they easy to take on and off? How efficient is the temperature control in the office? Are the edges of work surfaces rounded or edged? These checklist items aren’t even usually considered but are important to improving the environment for overall staff performance.
Before you start.
Before you start your dental office remodel, remember to take time to consider the ergonomics of the space. Your final product should comfortably promote efficient workplace flow and allow for increased patient traffic, all while helping your staff to work safely and comfortably day after day.
Our team of experts at HJT Dental Design Consultants doesn’t just think like office designers. We think like dentists because we have years of industry experience. We can help your office find the perfect balance it needs for comfort and success. Schedule your consultation today.