Dental Office Instruments and Supplies are Either Within Reach, or in a “Warehouse”

There are a few immutable laws in dentistry … and actually in doing anything that is physical:

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure,”
“You can’t measure what you can’t see,” and finally,
“You can’t use what you can’t reach.”

This last principle is simple enough, yet it is often ignored by the dental industry. There are a finite number of instruments, materials, and supplies needed for any given dental procedure. And these instruments simply need to be within the reach of you, your assistant, and the point-of-use (the dental patient’s mouth). If what you need is outside of your range of motion, you’ll be less productive, and your procedures will be more stressful for you, your staff, and your patients, as you are forced to reach, turn, find, and sort.

A few years ago (pre-Covid!), I asked someone in my dental office to shoot a very short (2-plus minutes) video of me and my assistant practicing dentistry within a perfectly consolidated range of motion. Everything we needed was within reach and everything throughout the procedure just flowed. Having a Bach Cello Suite playing in the background was also a plus. But hey, I live in New England. We’ve shot hundreds of videos like this in the office as we’ve sought to constantly improve our work, and be less wasteful in our movements. But, I keep coming back to this video. It represents so much to me. Saving the health of my hands, elbows, and back. Increased productivity. And joy in my work.

This procedure looks so simple … but it’s the outcome of decades of intentional work, and more than 10,000 hours of study with some of the best Designers and Ergonomists around the world.

Soon after starting my own dental practice in the 1980’s, I began experiencing significant physical symptoms of repetitive stress injuries (carpal tunnel syndrome and others). I thought that there must be something I was doing wrong in my practice to cause these problems, and so I worked with my team to document our workflow. My team recorded hundreds of hours of footage of me practicing dentistry to look for any opportunities to make the practice of dentistry easier on my body.

After reviewing the first 100 or so hours of the videos, I wanted to scream. It was difficult to watch myself wasting so much time and energy. Instead of practicing dentistry, it would have been easier on my body if I spent my day breakdancing (Is that still a thing?).  I realized that, for the previous 15 years, I had been causing serious damage to my body through wasteful movements. And I knew that this needed to change; not just for me, but for every dentist in the country.

I established a research group which included Industrial Engineers, MIT Scientists, and even the Ergonomist that NASA had hired to reconfigure the Space Shuttle control panel after the Challenger disaster. The conclusion became obvious to all: getting all of the items needed to do dentistry within equidistant reach of the doctor, assistant, and the point-of-use (patient’s mouth), would allow for ideal ergonomic positioning and a better patient experience.

I realized then that I needed to create an entirely new way of delivery that would accomplish this. After dozens of attempts and design iterations, my team invented the Universal Workstation, a patented system that enables Over-The-Head (OTH) delivery, which has been recognized as the 4th method of dental delivery by the ADA. The Universal Workstation is what I’m using with my assistant in the short video above. It just makes everything easier (By the way, you can also mount the handpieces Over-The-Patient (OTP) if you want …).

The Universal Workstation, and the principles of intelligent consolidation and waste reduction it represents, became the foundation from which we launched all improvements aimed at reducing stress and maximizing efficiency in our profession. It made it possible for me, and my staff, to have everything needed for a dental procedure within the range of motion. The Universal Workstation  is an acknowledgement that, if there is something you need for a procedure that is not within the range of motion, it might as well be in a warehouse. And as dentists, we should not be in the warehousing business. We need to provide efficient, ergonomic dental care to our patients, in a relaxing, spa-like environment. I discuss these topics in more detail in the YouTube video below:

You Can’t Use What You Can’t Reach:

It’s incredibly fulfilling for us to help our clients build dental practices that they are proud to own, and that allow them to give back to their communities and provide for their families. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to call my team at 1-800-275-2547.


David AhearnDr. David Ahearn, DDS, Founder and President of Design Ergonomics (desergo.com), Ergonomic Products (ergonomic-products.com) and Dental Reboot (dental-reboot.com)

To learn a little more about my journey in dentistry, and other principles you can apply to make your practice a fun, easy, and productive place to work, take a look at our This Can All Be Easier playlist on YouTube at:
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLdy8h3FzbwzK-LWXejuKHmpcETFy_cGm8

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