Fighting for Hydration: Tips for preventing dehydration in the clinical dental setting

The dental professional’s social media groups have been boomingly active with detailed descriptions of dentistry’s “new normal.”  Their posts have provided me with great tips on adjusting my clinical routine, and some have evoked major side eye and shade because some posters do the most. Because I returned to work much later than most prevention specialists, I had ample time to research and learn from other dental healthcare professionals’ experiences.  Common complaints and concerns that were mentioned repeatedly were headaches, lightheadedness, fatigue, extreme heat, and sweating profusely. It seemed like many were showing symptoms of dehydration.  With all the additional personal protective equipment (PPE) needed during the pandemic, I can see how the risk of being dehydrated increased for dental healthcare professionals. 

Naturally, I got a bit anxious because I couldn’t imagine going back to a job that I love knowing that not only am I at the highest risk of being exposed to Covid-19, but my risk for experiencing dehydration due to my work environment had increased as well.  I was already hot before the respirators and face shields so I knew I would be a walking flame when I returned with my new PPE. Heat and humidity increase the amount of sweat you emit.  Excessive sweating results in your body losing water, and if this water isn’t replaced as you go along it can cause dehydration.  Because I sweat a lot, I had to devise a plan to keep myself hydrated daily. Imagine the struggle trying to balance your workload, conserve PPE, and take regular hydration breaks. Yeah, I can’t visualize it either.

Of course, water is the best option for staying hydrated, but I knew I would be sweating for at least eight hours so I decided I would need to replenish my electrolytes during some part of the day.  Because I don’t really like the taste of sport drinks that help replenish electrolytes, I searched for natural options and more taste bud friendly options. 

I first checked the CDC for any recommendations for staying hydrated during work.  According to the CDC, one should hydrate before, during, and after work.  The CDC suggestions gauging your hydration using the urine test. Basically, you look at the color of your urine. Light yellow is hydrated, and darker shades of yellow means you’re possibly dehydrated. 

Do this prior to work because being hydrated when you start working improves your chances of staying hydrated during work. So before work, I make sure to drink at least 32 ounces of water before I arrived at work.  This was easy because I have about an hour commute and my jam sessions to Beyonce in Atlanta rush hour traffic sometimes get a little feisty. Most mornings, I have a green smoothie for breakfast because it’s easy and quick and packed full of nutrients. I added bananas to my smoothies because they are an excellent source of potassium. Potassium is lost when one is dehydrated, and I’m trying to prevent dehydration so additional potassium can help me. I must take a bathroom break prior to starting my first patient because duh…what is a bathroom break during patient care and who’s battling all this PPE in the middle of a busy schedule?!

Now, during work hydration is the tricky part.  We hardly have time to stop for a breath. How in the world will I squeeze in time to sip water? Yeah, I couldn’t figure it out either.  I decided that I would use my lunch break for the during work hydration time. I decided to use that time to consume something that would replenish my electrolytes as well.  Of course, if I needed to have water before lunch, I made sure I had my 32-ounce water bottle filled and ready to go at my desk. The CDC suggestions drinking water BEFORE you feel thirsty because you will likely have already fallen behind on your fluid replacement regimen when you start to feel thirsty.  So, please, please, please be an advocate for yourself and take that water break when necessary.

Because I do not like the taste of sports drinks, I initially started with lemon water (I know y’all) and coconut water.  Adding lemon to my water was a good electrolyte replenishing option, but I could not ignore the potential erosive defects that could occur on my teeth due to repetitive consumption of acidic drinks.  I would recommend the one and done method if you decide to drink lemon water.  You should have one serving at one sitting as opposed to sipping on the lemon water all day. I like coconut water because it is a low caloric and low sugar drink.  However, it’s not something I enjoy unless it’s flavored.  We all know how added flavor increases the amount of sugar in a product.  I quickly learned that unflavored coconut water alone was not my cup of tea, and it wouldn’t be something that I would consistently drink. Why force something that you don’t absolutely love? I love it in my smoothies though.

nunn hydration

While strolling through Target, yes, I had to get my fix, I discovered nuun (pronounced “Noon”) hydration.  It is an effervescent supplement loaded with electrolytes that you add to your water. They have a variety of hydration products. Your selection should be based on you and your needs.  I selected nuun hydration immunity.  We all need to boost our immunity to help our bodies fight off the virus. The nuun hydration immunity support supplement helps me accomplish a few daily tasks at one time. It’s filled with a botanical blend and electrolytes that supports both immunity health and hydration.  It’s tasty and there are only 2 grams of sugar per serving. When I drink nuun hydration, I’m boosting my immune system, replenishing electrolytes, and keeping my sugar intake down. The multitasking queen is winning! 

After work, I make sure I use that hour-long commute to work on another 32-ounce water bottle.  For some people, several hours are needed to replenish water lost due to sweating.  Hydrating after work is very important if your work environment is hot and humid.  On average, I drink about 80 to 96 ounces of fluids a day.  My fluid intake may be even higher if I consider the water in most foods consume during the day. Every person has a different requirement for water consumption. Drink the amount that is best for your body. Following someone else’s routine could lead to health implications for you.

Although I went through a trial and error phase, I found my game plan that is working for me. I’m still a walking flame because the air condition war is still going on at my workplace. I don’t know why the people who are always cold think it’s okay to come to work with only short sleeves.  We are burning up in the back with all this PPE. Dress accordingly because I cannot strip out of my clothes like I want. Please and thank you.

This is what I looked like at the end of my first week back at work. Give me air please!

Disclaimer: This is for informational purposes only for those experiencing dehydration issues related to the increased use of PPE in the clinical setting. Consult with your primary care provider prior to using any supplements. This is not intended to replace a medical evaluation or instructions of a licensed medical professional.

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