How To Deal With The Stress of Being A Dentist
Written by Dr. Rachel Hall
It is true – being a dentist is stressful. Most patients dislike coming and are themselves stressed or anxious and this often comes across as rudeness, aggression and irrational behaviour. No one seems to appreciate or understand how hard it is to fix a tooth when you are leaning over, ruining your posture and straining your eyes.
Dentist Various Types of Stress
Many patients do not want to take your advice and simply think they know best despite the level of knowledge, experience and expertise you have.
Many complain about the bill, blow things out of proportion, ask the same question over and over even though you spent forever explaining it and even drew them a picture. And why do the challenging patients all seem to be booked in on the busiest and most demanding of days?
Then there is constantly being pushed for time, dealing with the bickering and team dynamics and their inability to think or organise anything for themselves – which come on doctor you know you’ve had a hand in as you are so controlling and need to micro-manage everything!
Add to that the bills are overdue, stock needs ordering, cash flow is a drip feed and the most vital piece of equipment has just blown up and yes…. It’s not surprising you’re stressed!
What Dentists Were Never Prepared For
Dental school fails to prepare the fresh-faced young and eager dentist to cope with the pressures they will face once graduated and working in dental practice. Instead it puts you under enormous amounts of pressure to learn, to achieve, and to come up to standard, pass exams and see patients on clinic at the same time.
You learn not to complain, to suck it up because you have to be the one to make it work, pay the bills, make the patients happy. You hold it all inside and put your brave face on as you dare not show you are overwhelmed and not handling the workload.
We come to rely on coping mechanisms like sugar, caffeine, alcohol and even drug abuse to handle the demands of daily practice; demands that we vent at our staff, patients, families and friends and then beat ourselves up over. Is a downward spiral!
Eventually we get sick, develop musculoskeletal problems, anxiety and depression, become de-motivated, resent our job, our staff and our patients and suffer from professional burnout and a higher than average rate of divorce, drug and alcohol addiction and suicide.
The statistics speak for themselves; in a study from the British Dental Journal July 2004, 90% of dentists said they drank alcohol regularly (with 1 in 7 dentists having an alcohol problem), 10% smoked and 35% were overweight. 62% suffered from heartburn, wind or indigestion, 60% reported being nervy, tense or depressed, 58% reported headache, 48% reported difficulty in sleeping and 48% reported feeling tired for no apparent reason.
Results also indicated that levels of minor psychiatric symptoms were high at 32%, similar to doctors at 27% and higher than the general population, which has been reported at 18%.
It is obvious from the studies that dentists do encounter numerous sources of professional stress, which can impact negatively on their personal and professional lives. Because of this dentists are prone to professional burnout, anxiety disorders and clinical depression and must be made aware of the importance of maintaining good physical and mental health to enjoy satisfying professional and personal lives.
Anecdotally, health professionals do not seek help for their own stress and personal frailty readily and instead are likely to put on a brave face and pretend they have the situation under control. Many often refuse to seek help for fear they will be stigmatised or lose their job whilst many others remain in denial.
Would it not then be sensible and beneficial to teach dental students and dentists a different way of managing stress and caring for themselves so they would be better equipped to deal with life? What if we could show dentists how to live in a way that supports them to deal with their issues and stresses and thus be able maintain their own health and remain fit and healthy both physically and mentally?
Solving the Dentist Stress Challenge
On a business level it’s important that you have systems and processes and are able to delegate to your team and have a team that is engaged and aligned to your practice values and mission. Sounds like a lot right there. Plus, as well as taking care of the business side of things you must learn to take care of your number one asset – YOU.
Here is a simple common sense approach to health and vitality that encourages you to care for and respect your body. This has worked well for me and many of my clients.
Eat to Support the Body
By assessing how the body reacts to foods (and situations) we can see what is beneficial and what to avoid such as gluten, dairy, sugar, caffeine and alcohol as these can cause stress to the body or may make you feel unwell. It is also a well-known fact that what we eat can affect our mood and wellbeing.
Go to bed early after unwinding from your day to support you to get plenty of good quality sleep. Wake when your body feels to, not when the clock or society says you should, which may be earlier than you are used to. Once you establish a healthy sleep pattern you awake less exhausted and full of energy.
Be in Control of Your Choices
Every choice we make affects and contributes to what happens in our life. These choices can either be self-caring and nurturing or not. The body constantly communicates with us about how those choices impact on it. If we override or ignore those messages instead of addressing them then eventually the body will suffer aches and pains, digestive problems, emotional fluctuations, stress, tension etc and illness can result.
Exercise gently to keep the body fit, strong and supple. This assists us to be physically healthy without over-stressing the body, causing muscle tears or injury and producing excess lactic acid build up which can cause pain and stiffness.
Focusing the Mind
The constant chatter of our mind and thinking about other things and situations instead of the task at hand is draining and stressful. It is like a computer trying to run several programs at once, it uses up a lot of energy and drains the batteries. By remaining more present and focusing the mind to what is occurring in each moment we save energy and reduce stress levels. By switching off the incessant brain chatter it is easier to connect to the body and how we feel and thus remain calm.
The Gentle Breath Meditation can help to calm and de-stress the body and provide a moment to stop and reflect on how we are. Being aware of our breath allows us to feel when we are stressed or holding tension. By breathing gently we can slow the heart rate, reduce our blood pressure and let go of tension. By tuning in with our body we can feel where we are tight and holding tension; e.g. if our jaw is clenched, shoulders are up around our ears, our breath is laboured or whether our movements are rigid, tense and rushed or not; and then choose to let that tension go and allow the body to relax.
Sometimes our issues and the pressures that we face are too much for us to handle alone. It is important that we realise that everyone at some point in their life finds it hard to cope and that it is perfectly acceptable to seek support and ask for help.
Self-care is an integral and essential part of having a long and healthy dental career and should be incorporated into the undergraduate curriculum and be offered as part of our continuing professional development education. By equipping people with the tools of self-care that they can carry throughout their career; ill health and the need to use sugar, caffeine and alcohol or drugs as coping mechanisms could be reduced and avoided. In this way our health care providers including us dentists would be a living example to those that we are caring for, treating and educating on wellbeing.
About the Author
Dr Rachel Hall, business coach and founder of Ascendancy Business Coaching for Dentists, dentist and practice owner. Rachel’s coaching helps you develop tools and skills for a dental office that is less dependent on you, so you can do what you love and focus on being productive and happy through planning, strategy and systems – “without them you don’t own your business it owns you”.
You can learn more about her by going to one of her websites:
Or you can directly contact her at this email: firstname.lastname@example.org