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Hand fatigue: An investment in gloves, instruments protects the most valuable instrument, the hands

June 21, 2017
Nicole Giesey, RDH, suggests investments in gloves and instruments to protect a dental hygienist's most valuable asset, his or her hands.

By Nicole Giesey, RDH, MSPTE

The old saying, “My dogs are barking,” was a casually meant, “My feet are hurting.” Hygienists can simply say, “My hands are howling.” Day in and day out, we use our most precious instruments, our hands.

How do we combat the inevitable hand fatigue that comes with working them to the bone? We go to war with every piece of stain and tartar like good soldiers in the mighty fight against gingivitis and periodontal disease, but even every war hero has to take care of their weapons. How can we easily fight hand fatigue and win the war unscathed? Let’s identify the problem at hand (no pun intended).

Hand fatigue can be attributed from multiple sources: Arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, general hand fatigue, cysts, tendonitis, neck issues, improper ergonomics, improper instrumentation, ill-fitting gloves, and fibromyalgia, just to name a few. There are so many reasons that the list can go on and on. An area that we can focus on if we had to pick only one would be something that we can change immediately. The instruments and the gloves that we use are a couple of issues that jump out as an easy and quick fix.

Of course, we are sometimes destined to work with what we are given. But with so many companies out there competing for your business, instrument pricing for good quality instruments that are ergonomically fit have come down in price to the point that we can buy our own instruments a few at a time. Come tax time, they can serve as a good write off.

Instruments—Many hygienists feel that they will not buy their own instruments because it is the employer’s position to provide them, since the instruments directly contribute to production. This reasoning is 110% correct. But when you work for an extremely frugal dentist who feels their 25-year-old quarter-inch handle instruments from dental school are just fine and dandy, you are allowing them to dictate the fate of your hands.

Save your health and research the instruments from different vendors, go to trade shows for deals and protect your most valued instruments—your hands. Invest in a couple sets of good instruments. This will not only make your patients happy and the work day easier, but more importantly your hands will be happy.

Gloves—Another way to fight fatigue is to ensure that we are wearing the proper gloves. With so many on the market these days, there are plenty to choose from. Companies will send samples of all sorts of gloves—latex, nitrile, neoprene, fitted, etc.

The latest trend is the neoprene glove. It is the glove of choice for many who would like a glove that feels like latex with no allergies associated with it. Once you try this type of glove, it will be very difficult to go back to the nitrile or latex that you used to wear. This glove type also has the stretch to accommodate the fatiguing hand.

The fitted glove is an additional type of glove that should be considered. The major difference is that unlike its ambidextrous cousin, the fitted gloves are actually molded for a left hand and a right hand. This molding will reduce the tension on the thumb that could be encountered by the ambidextrous glove that has a fit for either the left or the right hands. Again, the dental product companies will send you out samples of the fitted gloves that they carry so you can try before you buy.

One thing to note on the fitted gloves is that they are sized by actual numbers and also half sizes—not by extra small, small, medium, etc. When you are requesting a sample, ask for your actual glove size and the half size above and below it to ensure that you are going to get the perfect fitting glove for you. These are the Bentley of gloves, and your hands will surely feel the difference at the end of the day.

Our hands are truly one of our most important instruments. Some hand issues are much more complicated and involve more than switching instruments or gloves. If these tips will help alleviate some pain and discomfort, why not try them out? For the other hand issues mentioned above, it is best to seek medical intervention. Physical therapy, massage therapy, and other treatments are out there for our occupation. Cutting your career short due to hand issues is nothing new to hygienists. Prevention is a huge part in this fight. Please take care of your hands so they can take care of your patients.

Nicole Giesey, RDH, MSPTE, enjoys researching, writing, and educating on topics related to dental hygiene. She is the dental hygiene product specialist for Maxill. She can be contacted at [email protected].