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Take a Break

Here’s how to incorporate relaxation into your daily workday.

A day in the life of a dental hygienist is filled with constant motion from preparing the operatory to providing excellent patient care. Dental hygienists are at increased risk of work-related stress, with many reporting musculoskeletal discomfort and difficulty with emotional regulation (the need to exhibit specific emotions as part workplace responsibilities).1 Although squeezing in breaks throughout the day may be challenging, dental hygienists must make their health a priority.


Figure 1. Mountain pose or tadasama.

Proper nutrition and exercise are key. Keep high protein bars (gluten- and sugar-free bars that contain at least 20 g of protein are smart choices), as well as fruit on hand to sustain energy and moderate blood sugar throughout the day. Peanut butter on a celery stick is also a good choice. While moving may be the last item on the list after a long day in the operatory, exercise is crucial to good health. Even a brief walk around the block can help. Try to find an exercise that you enjoy and dedicate yourself to maintaining a routine.


Taking breaks can help dental hygienists better handle work-related stress. Here are a few tips for incorporating breaks into the workday. First, routinely arrive 20 minutes early to prepare for the day. Smile, greet colleagues, and be grateful for the ability to improve your patients’ oral health. A good attitude can do wonders during a stressful day. In the operatory, begin to relax and stretch tall by reaching the arms high to the sky. The intention is to stretch each side of the spine longer and longer.

Another idea is to relax with breathing. Breathe in for 7 counts using the diaphragm to expand the rib cage and hold this breath for 7 counts, and then exhale slowly for 7 counts—releasing any tension on the exhalation. This technique is a type of yogic breathing that is calming and energizing. Be sure to keep the shoulders relaxed. Try to repeat this exercise at least three times in succession.

During the mid-morning, shake out your hands and wrists as if shaking water off of them. Relax the jaw and release the head and neck. Keep the neck lengthened like a swan. Conclude with another long inhalation and stretch to the sky. Stand with feet together and hands at your sides in mountain pose, also known as tadasama (Figure 1). This is the most basic standing pose in the practice of yoga and the foundation of all others. This pose supports the alignment of the body and helps to improve posture.

Figure 2.Child’s pose or balasana.

During the last 5 minutes of the lunch break, lie down and perform a pelvic tilt where the lower back presses into the floor, releasing the pelvis. Performing yoga’s child pose or balasana also relaxes and rounds out the spine (Figure 2). Repeat this exercise a couple of times. Remember to let the body melt into the floor, relax, and breathe naturally with eyes closed.

Decide to break in the afternoon after finishing the next three patients. Again, eat a healthy snack and then elevate your feet above your heart for 5 minutes (Figure 3). Inversion can help release pressure in the back and reduce swelling in the legs and feet. Also, slowly rotate the wrists inward three times and outward three times. Then shake out your hands again.

Figure 3. Elevate the legs above the heart to stimulate the immune and endorine systems.

Of course the day of a dental hygienist doesn’t end in the operatory. Much happens between the end of the workday and bed time with family obligations and other responsibilities. Reserve 10 minutes before sleep. At this time, practice inversion by placing your legs against a wall and then releasing every muscle. Be mindful of the body and let the tension fall from the sore spots. Think about what might have caused the discomfort and then try to remember this when working on patients. If the soreness returns, attempt to make adjustments to decrease the tension in this particular area. Dental hygienists must be mindful of red flags that can be unintentionally caused by improper movement. After this relaxation, sleeping for at least 8 hours will also support health and well-being.

While it may not be possible to incorporate each of these breaks into every workday, by being mindful of relaxation and even performing one stretch during the day, you can improve your health.


  1. Sanders MJ, Turcotte CM. Occupational stress in dental hygienists. Work. 2010;35:455–465.


From Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. January 2013; 11(1): 25–26.



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