Caitlin Parsons demonstrates sa yoga technique.

How yoga therapy can help you get that "hygiene smile"

March 23, 2022
No one wants pain in their life, especially from their job. Caitlin Parsons, RDH, overcame chronic pain by integrating yoga into her everyday life. She wants the same for her peers.

Working as a dental hygienist is hard work. Besides the clinical aspect, our profession can be challenging physically, mentally, and emotionally. Day in and day out, patient after patient, we treat, educate, and inspire people to take care of their oral health.

One challenge hygienists have is trying to put on a smile at all times when inside we feel like we’re falling apart. This is commonly referred to as the “hygiene smile.” I’ll share ways to help you step into your best and most authentic self as a dental hygienist by using some simple and therapeutic yoga practices.

In the 12 years I’ve been practicing clinical hygiene, I’ve experienced a wide variety of issues that kept me from feeling and practicing at my highest level. From chronic pain and work-related injuries to stress and a lack of energy and focus, living with pain caused stress on my whole body and created a ripple effect of issues in my life.

When I slowly implemented yoga therapy into my daily life, my pain rapidly decreased. From there, I was able to manage my stress, which led to increased energy and focus at work. My patient experiences, daily numbers, and leadership skills improved. Those changes made a monumental difference in my health, happiness, and career.

By implementing yoga therapy, you’ll learn tools to strengthen your body and the muscles that support good posture. Incorporating different stretches throughout the day can drastically improve posture, ergonomics, and overall health. Breathing and meditation practices support mental health while improving focus and communication, which are imperative for hygienists. Additionally, yoga teaches tools to increase awareness of self, which is vital for personal and professional growth.

Now, let’s dive into some easy ways to start incorporating yoga both in and out of the op.

Stretching and strengthening

Sitting is not ideal for the human body. One of the most important steps you can take to counteract the negative effects of sitting is to regularly stretch and incorporate strengthening practices. Yoga therapy teaches us how to move the spine in all directions to support a healthy back. These movements include forward bending, back bending, side bending, sitting up tall, and twisting.

In addition, this effectively reduces aches and pains through properly moving and stabilizing the joints that support healthy posture. By integrating these key elements into your daily work routine, you will decrease tension and increase stability in the body, helping you overcome, prevent, or reduce chronic pain and injuries.

Mastering ergonomics

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are extremely common in the dental industry. With a high prevalence of back, hand, and wrist issues, it’s imperative for hygienists to follow proper ergonomic practices to avoid significant injury. One of the most important things we can do for our personal health and career longevity is to set ourselves up for success ergonomically.

I recommend starting each day by setting up your operatory so it fits your body's alignment, including your operator chair, patient chair, and tray table. In addition, set up your body in ideal positioning at the start of each appointment to ensure complete ergonomic success. By taking the time every day to focus on specific areas, you will alleviate current physical challenges and prevent future issues. With this increased awareness, you can increase your attention to ergonomics and create long-lasting change.

Managing stress

How can you manage everything you have on your plate without allowing it to cause long-lasting stress? That’s where yoga therapy comes in. Yoga teaches you how to breathe effectively to combat stress. By simply becoming aware of how you breathe, you can shift your nervous system's response. When you focus on elongating your breath, specifically the exhalation, you have the ability to trigger a parasympathetic nervous system response. As a result, you calm the mind and body.

One simple breathing exercise you can implement at work to reduce stress is box breathing. In this straightforward technique, inhale for a count of four, pause for a count of four, exhale for a count of four, and hold for a count of four. Repeat this five times.

Improving focus

Once you start to feel better physically, you can focus your mind. In addition to reducing stress, meditation will improve focus. Meditating can be easy: set a timer for two to five minutes and focus on your breath, allowing any mental chatter to drop away slowly. The more you do this, the better you train your mind to focus. Try practicing meditation before work and watch your focus improve.

Increasing self-awareness for growth

One of the most important tools to learn as a hygienist is self-awareness, which is a foundational element of a yoga therapy practice. Becoming the best hygienist you can be requires a deep awareness of yourself so you can grow and evolve in your career and throughout your life. Meditation is a powerful way to integrate self-awareness. This can be done by taking one minute every day to slow down and tune in to yourself. Notice your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and body. This practice will help you understand yourself and create change from that place. By implementing yoga therapy into your routine, you will learn powerful tools for self-awareness Finding your authentic “hygiene smile”

With less pain and stress and an increase in self-awareness, you can focus on bringing joy back to the op, aka your “hygiene smile.” Feeling good physically and mentally opens the gates for more positivity in your life. From a state of balance, you can focus on what truly brings you joy. You can incorporate self-reflection by asking, “What would make me happy today?” or “How can I bring more joy into my daily life?” You’d be surprised how fundamental this can be.

There are many ways to incorporate yoga therapy into daily life to optimize your health and excel at work. The better you feel, the more impact you can have. Yoga therapy is a self-care tool that allows you to give from a place of abundance rather than depletion. If you’re ready to bring back an authentic “hygiene smile” and feel your best, add yoga therapy to your toolkit!

Following are photos of me demonstrating some of the daily yoga positions to do at work or first thing in the morning that can change your life!