Dental Ergonomics Position
for Success in Dentistry
How Dental Headrests Influence Your Posture
BY BETHANY VALACHI, PT, DPT, MS, CEAS
Over the past 20 years in my in-office ergonomic consultations, I have identified 3 ergonomic problems that cause over half of all musculoskeletal pain problems in dental professionals. One of these ‘Top Three Pain Problems’ is poor control of the occlusal plane. Dentists and hygienists have difficulty getting the patient reclined far enough to preserve their best working posture in the 11-12 o’clock position. Whether it is due to the patient’s fear, vestibular problem, kyphotic posture, or other etiology, the bottom line is that you sacrifice your optimal working posture and place yourself in an unsafe position when you accommodate these patients.
The million dollar question:
How do you get the patient to tolerate these extended, reclined positions?
Control the occlusal plane—especially when treating the upper arch. The more the occlusal plane of the upper arch gets in front of the vertical, the more it pulls the operator into a forward, hunched posture. Most dentists and hygienists do not extend the patient’s head far enough, for risk of causing patient discomfort. To maintain optimal operator posture and ease of viewing, the occlusal plane of the upper arch should be angled behind the vertical.
Double articulating headrests must be angled steeply downward to attain this patient position. However, most double articulating headrests are not comfortable when angled up into the patient’s occiput and cause tension in the cervical musculature. It’s no wonder the patient objects to being reclined! However, when the cervical curve is properly and comfortably supported with a small contoured dental neck cushion, it causes relaxation of the cervical musculature and the patient is amazingly more receptive to being reclined.
Flat headrests make it more difficult to get the occlusal plane behind the vertical when treating the upper arch.
Most flat headrests come with a horseshoe or magnetic headrest, which generally do not support the cervical spine adequately. The best positioning for the upper arch can be attained using a larger contoured dental neck cushion.
I have found that patients love these cushions, and most dental offices find that after they trial one, they end up purchasing one for each operatory due to patient requests. The low profile headrest can also be used for small/pedo patients on a flat headrest.
INTERESTED IN FURTHER
DENTAL ERGONOMICS TRAINING?
Headrest adjustment is just step #3 in a 10-step patient positioning sequence that Dr. Valachi teaches at OHSU School of Dentistry to ensure a neutral working posture that prevents work-related pain.
Learn how to properly use neck cushions to preserve your best working posture, how to treat difficult patients and ensure your career longevity with Dr. Valachi’s new CE Course, “Positioning
for Success in Dentistry”. At www.posturedontics.com
Dr. Bethany Valachi, PT, DPT, MS, CEAS is author of the book, “Practice Dentistry Pain-Free”, clinical instructor of ergonomics at OHSU School of Dentistry in Portland, OR and is recognized internationally as an expert in dental ergonomics. For over 20 years, Dr. Valachi has helped thousands of dental professionals prevent pain and extend their careers with her relevant, evidence-based dental ergonomic education. She has published more than 60 articles in peer-reviewed dental journals and offers AGD PACE approved dental ergonomic educational materials on her website at