The definition of 4-handed dentistry boils down to 2 hands of a well-trained dental assistant helping the 2 hands of a dentist in dental procedures to decrease time of production and increase efficiency.
4-Handed Dentistry has been around for over 60 years, yet is still the best way to run your practice on time and increase production. Many practices either don't know about 4-handed dentistry, or don't understand it enough to take the time to learn it and execute it well. While some may think that it's just a dentist using a dental assistant each time they are doing a procedure, it's so much more than that. 4-handed dentistry is a method that includes planning, training, proper equipment and buy-in from the team.
Here are 4 steps to master 4 Handed Dentistry:
1. Learn the skill
The skill of 4-handed dentistry is a combination of ergonomic movements, equipment placement, knowledge of procedures and a well-trained dental assistant. The basis of the approach is to limit movement to both save time and strain on the body.
These are a few of the basic techniques for 4-handed dentistry:
- Place yourself as close as you can to the patient with their head basically in your lap. This keeps your head at a good angle to see right into their mouth without having to bend your back.
- The dental assistant should be on the other side of the patient with their left hip at the patient's left shoulder and sitting almost a head higher than the dentist. This allows for the assistant to also see into the oral cavity and determine what the doctor is doing to be able to anticipate the next tool he/she will need.
- Have your trays set up ahead of time and have the assistant trained on how to hand the tools to the dentist to minimize risk of injury to the patient as well as movement of the dentist. The goal is to have the dentist barely, if at all, look up from their procedure.
You can see more about an explanation and demonstration below.
2. Practice, practice, practice
It is important to train yourself and your dental assistant to work together. Your dental assistant should know your procedures so well that they anticipate what you need before you need it. This takes time, but it is worth investing in. You can become so efficient that you never have to look up from the work you are doing on the patient. Remember, practice doesn't make perfect it makes permanent. So make sure that when you are practicing you are doing it correctly.
3. Have the right equipment
In order to practice 4-handed dentistry correctly, you need ergonomic equipment. This method's purpose is not only to speed up production but to protect the body of the dentist and assistant. Sitting, bending, twisting in the same positions day after day can cause damage and long term issues. Using the 4-handed approach keeps the doctor from having to turn, bend and move in awkward positions. The equipment you use plays a huge roll in how you move in the operatory. Where you position the equipment affects how ergonomic and efficient you are through the procedure.
4. Plan Ahead
You should train your dental assistant to prepare the operatory ahead of time so everything you'd need for the procedure is prepped and ready. This saves time and eases stress because you are both prepared. If it is a new procedure or a new assistant make sure you run through it a few times with your assistant so they feel confident.
This will not only help you both feel confident but your patient will walk into the room also feeling confident that you are organized and know what you are doing. This is the intangible benefit of using the 4-handed approach. Dental work is scary and stressful for most patients so the more you can show a well organized practice the more trust you will have with your patients.
There are tried and true methods in dentistry and the 4-handed dentistry method is one of them. The better you get at executing this strategy in your practice, the more efficient and productive you and your team will be. You and your dental assistant will also feel better physically because of moving ergonomically throughout the day while you perform your procedures. Don't forget how organized and less stressed you both will feel with having the room set up ahead of time. You will also benefit from the ease of executing the procedures because your assistant can anticipate your every move and give you the right tools at exactly the right time. It takes time and buy-in but it will make your dental practice operate like a well oiled machine and your patients will feel the difference.