My 6-year Clinical Career from Non-Ergonomic Loupes
Dee Humphrey, RDH, BHSc
Dee Humphrey, RDH, BHSc has been infecting the masses with her contagious laughter and enthusiastic passion for Ministry & Dentistry. She worked as a clinical dental hygienist prevention specialist for 6 years in a Tribal Community Dental Clinic in Northeast Oklahoma. Dee has respectfully earned intuitive public health knowledge and continues to educate the community through various prevention programs. She is a Communication Engineer; Speaker, Author, and Influencer who inspires and motivates people to take action; have faith.
It is evident magnification in dentistry can increase the acuity of the oral cavity and enhance career longevity. However dental professionals must understand not all loupes are created equal in ergonomics, even though they claim to be! Comprehending the ergonomic issues that can arise from using improper loupe designs has never been more vital to one’s career.
My clinical career was cut short due to using non-ergonomic loupes. I am sharing my story so you can learn now what I learned too late.
I bought my first pair of loupes in dental hygiene school and was told by the sales rep they would enhance career longevity by maintaining my ergonomics. While loupes were optional at my school I made the choice to purchase, even though I didn’t fully understand the ergonomics of the design. After 3 years in clinical work, I noticed a pinching pain that radiated down my left arm and began to lose feeling in 2 fingers. I was told by others within the dental profession that physical ailments were “just part of the job.” Now I know I should have never accepted pain as a normal way of life. But I did.
I urge you, never to accept this “part of the job” statement from anyone. The future of your career depends on your health! I should have kept in mind that pain is a message from the body saying something is causing damage and needs urgent attention. And yet, I ignored that message. You can choose to be a martyr, or you can have a long pain-free career. The choice is ultimately yours.
I continued working and attempted to treat the symptoms with chiropractic care or deep tissue massages, excusing the feeling of loss as ‘okay’ as it was not in my dominant hand. Within 5 years of starting my career, I was forced to seek serious medical attention. At a later date, neck surgery was required.
I asked the neurologist what could have caused my condition. They wanted me to find a way to minimize head tilting my head as I worked. They recommended I try a different brand of loupes. I returned to work after recovering. Then, 6 months later, I needed lower back surgery. This surgery resulted in me permanently leaving clinical work.
While at a Trade show in Oklahoma I was trying on many different loupes brands and found SurgiTel. I immediately noticed that they asked different questions that focused more towards ergonomics. Unlike some of the other companies I visited that day, never once did this sales rep try to sell me loupes that matched my scrubs or asked if I liked to look stylish in the new available brands.
I spoke to the SurgiTel rep for nearly 45 minutes, learning all about the beneficial ergonomics loupes can provide. I learned about how the declination angle facilitated the correct head-tilt (less than 20 degrees forward) which is needed to prevent and/or alleviate chronic neck pain. It was stressed that if the declination angle (how steeply you can look down through the magnification oculars) is not steep enough you cannot hold your head upright, and it would be the main cause for chronic neck pain.
To my surprise, I was finally learning why my clinical hygiene career only lasted 6 years. Many questions came to mind about the so-called “ergonomic” brand I used. Could I had been improperly fitted from the very beginning of my career? Was there was a deficiency in the design of the declination angle? If my current brand was as ergonomic as the company claimed, then why was I injured? Was there excessive head tilt, which led to the destruction of my neck health? My neurologist seemed to think so! My neurologist sure didn’t say neck pain was “just part of the job.”
A month later I became an adjunct faculty at a dental hygiene program in Missouri and decided to start using SurgiTel loupes there. For the first time, I fully understood how critical using ergonomic loupes was to my now my compromised neck health and the future of my career. The differences in what I felt were drastic! These ergonomic loupes allowed for me to oversee treatment procedures while standing over students and patients. I immediately noticed profound changes in my posture, which helped me work pain-free. I was able to look down with my eyes, not my neck, with the SurgiTel loupes. I still worked 8 hour days but without discomfort.
I was actually much more comfortable than the students, who were using a different brand than I. The students also noticed the difference! They observed that I could see from a greater working distance with no distortion of perception, my light was more focused and brighter than theirs, and I had less head-tilt and was not feeling the neck pain they already were.
My clinical career may be over at 36-years-old but I am hoping yours isn’t. Please learn from my story and look into real loupe ergonomics before it’s too late. Before you trust a salesman, or a colleague, or even a teacher: trust your own body first. If you are beginning to feel the little aches or stings of clinical work in your neck, or are already have neck pain, then it’s time to ask why and revaluate your current loupe brand.
Do your research on the ergonomic loupe designs and stop getting loupes for style! Know that the correct declination angle and working distance that brings ergonomic health. Know what an ergonomic posture looks like (head tilted less than 20 forward) and check this against a photo of you working. Understand that bending the head more than 20 degrees will eventually do to you what it did to me. It will first cause pain and then shorten your career! Find your solution now. You and your career deserve it!
Dee Humphrey, RDH, BHSc