The ADA found that, “The percent of dentists diagnosed with anxiety more than tripled in 2021 compared to 2003.” No kidding. From screaming kids to fear of failure, stress in dentistry is a given. But what can you do to manage the stress when it feels like the causes aren’t going anywhere? Here, we discuss how you can reduce stress levels and improve your work performance every day.
Stress Management in Dentistry
Why is it even necessary to address your feelings of anxiety? If you don’t, it will affect your performance as a dentist, your patient and work relationships, and your mental health. We didn’t say it might — it will. Unaddressed stress is also likely to seep into your non-work life and degrade your sleep, personal relationships, and more.
Challenges of Being a Dentist
Before you try to manage your stress, identify the root causes. While the causes of stress are individualized, there are some common influences for those in the dental profession.
Common causes include:
A lack of time management. With an unorganized schedule comes chaos. You might forget an appointment time, go over time for a procedure, or have to skip lunch because you’re too busy to take a break.
A lack of continued learning. If you haven’t been keeping up with the latest technology in dentistry or never got around to mastering a specialty, you may lose your confidence when facing anything more than a simple single-tooth case.
Physical complications and burnout. Leaning over to care for your patients for hours on end can take a physical toll on your body including back injuries, tension headaches, and other health complications. If you haven’t taken a break since dental school, you’re likely to burn out and lose your edge as a dentist. Physical and mental overexertion leads to simple mistakes that can chip away at your confidence.
No financial planning and budgeting. Maybe you have dental school debt weighing on your shoulders or you just found out that your business insurance policy doesn’t cover your brand new CEREC machine. If you don’t have an emergency fund or spending and investing plans, it can feel like all the money you’re making as a dentist is going down the drain.
It’s easy to become stressed from any one of the above factors, let alone from multiple causes at the same time. But you need to remember that there are things you can do to manage your stress (and things you shouldn’t do).
What You Shouldn’t Do
In today’s world, to be a successful dentist, you must have emotional intelligence. The following ways of “coping” with stress in dentistry are unhealthy and don’t work in the long run, even if they feel like your only options at the time.
Don’t bottle it up.
While you should keep your composure in front of your patients, this doesn’t mean you should ignore your emotions completely. Bottling up your concerns can lead to further stress and impact your ability to work.
Don’t smoke or drink excessively.
There has long been a connection between smoking and/or drinking and increased levels of stress. This is very ironic, considering many people grab a cigarette or a bottle to ease their feelings of anxiety — especially after a hard day at work.
Don’t stay up late fuming about work.
While you should deal with your emotions, you shouldn’t wait until the very end of the day. You’ll end up feeling tired and anxious the next day if you don’t decompress in time to get a good night’s sleep.
Don’t keep to yourself.
Keeping colleagues at a distance and ignoring your friends and family so you can throw yourself into your job is a terrible idea. While you are a dentist, you’re also a person. Everyone needs some level of social support.
5 Ways To Manage Stress in Dentistry
How do we deal with my our stress as a dentists? This didn’t happen overnight, but we gradually adopted the following strategies:
1. Get Organized
Plan your schedule and create padding around difficult procedure appointments so you won’t feel rushed or pressured to finish. If you know you have a full mouth rehab on Wednesday, don’t accept a second one for the same day. Set parameters for what you can and can’t accomplish at work during your scheduled hours.
2. Remember To Breathe — and Take Vacations
Yes, your patients need you, but you can’t help them if you’re burned out. A work/life balance is practically unheard of for our profession, but you owe it to yourself to take time for yourself and your loved ones. Plan well ahead of time (months ahead of time) and ensure your work schedule is blocked during your vacation to avoid any hiccups. In case one of your patients needs you, make sure they have access to your colleagues or have a referral ready so you won’t need to end your vacation early.
If you’re in the office and you feel the pressure building, try breathing exercises, stay hydrated, and remember to eat. A 4-7-8 breathing exercise can be very effective for managing your stress. Don’t be afraid to try out other methods and use what works for you.
3. Seek Financial Advice
If you find your dental student debt or business loans breathing down your neck, it’s time to call in the experts. Find someone who is familiar with the industry who can help you get control of your finances so you can focus on living your best life.
It wouldn’t hurt to get the advice of experienced dentists in the field, as you can bet that long-term successful dentists have smart long-term plans for their money.
4. Upskill Your Dentistry
If there is a specific discipline in dentistry that stresses you out, consider using learning resources and getting a mentor or instructor to help you gain confidence. When you keep building up your knowledge and skills, you’ll start to feel the difference every time you work on a patient.
5. Join a Community of Dentists
There are thousands of dentists out there — like you — who could use support and encouragement to battle the loneliness they feel every day at work. So why not join them? An online dental community can help remove the feeling of isolation and replace it with a positive environment that organically offers support, collaboration, and learning opportunities.
Manage Stress in Dentistry With RipeGlobal
When you know other dentists have your back, it's easier to take on the challenges in dentistry confidently. If you're seeking a tight-knit community of like-minded dentists, dental learners, and dental professionals, learn more about our virtual dental residency programs.