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How to Manage Stress as a Dentist

By Planet DDS
September 10, 2021

The fact that we talk about managing stress” tells us something about the condition. Bottom-line: stress is part of life so learning how to manage it as a dentist should be a top priority.  

Career liability 

Frankly, a discussion of stress and dentistry sounds like a song stuck on repeat. Perhaps a reminder that being a dentist is stressful helps normalize it. 

But accepting that reality and dealing with it on a daily basis are two different things. 

What’s the deal? 

Identifying dental stressors can provide some leverage. The following are few stress-realities perhaps unique to dentistry: 

  • Professional isolationyou’re indoors most of the workday and aside from your assistant (and of course the patient at hand) you’re alone. 
  • Perfectionismwith acquired skills and in demand expertise can come high levels of emotional control and expectations for yourself, your team, and your associates. 
  • Economic pressureproduction goals, overtime, reduced time off or time away creates an exhausting pace. 
  • Time pressure—you live by the schedule and the production it creates. 
  • Patient fearstheir fears are real but it’s difficult not to own them and take them personally. 1 

The toll it takes 

We’ve been told (rightly so) that stress is goodin certain quantities and situations. It causes you to take action, assess your circumstances, and protect yourself and those around you. 

However, stress can manifest itself in harmful ways, too.  

Here are some textbook signs that stress is taking a toll on you: 

  • Fatigue 
  • Headaches
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure) 
  • Hyperventilation (feeling suffocated) 
  • Stomach and digestive issues 
  • Pain 

That’s the physical side of it. Let’s not forget the emotional toll stress takes on you. 

  • Anxiety 
  • Depression 
  • Insomnia 

How to reduce stress as a dentist

Start with awareness 

Know your enemy and you’re better prepared to face itright? In that case, it helps to realize you’re not alone in this battle with dental stress. 

“In the 2015 Dentist Well-Being Survey report by the American Dental Association, 2,122 dentists described their stress levels and triggers. Over two-thirds of them, 79%, reported moderate to severe stress. More than a quarter of them, 26%, also reported moderate to high levels of depression.” 2 

“Chronic stress is an internal, biological, physiological, chemical reaction that is part of your autonomic nervous system, and it has clear and identifiable symptoms. Acute stress consists of low stress levels that spur you forward and enhance your awareness. It may have positive effects on your lifestyle. However, chronic stress consists of high stress levels with a continual release of cortisol over time, and that can be disastrous.” 3 

Personal awareness of what’s stressing you is also key. Stress could be a variety of things. Thus, it’s vital to be as self-aware as possible about what’s influencing your stress. 

Is it job satisfaction? 

Is it sleep quality? 

Is it the amount of weekly work hours? 

Is it your sense of circumstantial control? 

Take a moment to ask yourself these questions and identify if any other stressors you’re aware of in your life and career as a dentist. And maintain a consistent level of healthy self-awareness as you navigate stress. 

Stick with mindfulness 

Being mindful implies that you accept where you are in the moment. If you’re stressed the mere acknowledgement of it can help you begin to gain control. 

  • Respond in the moment. Recognizing your personal stress triggers can help you take proactive steps to deal with it then-and-there (before it worsens).  
  • Reduce your current patient’s stress. Remember a strong level of stress as a dentist is bearing the weight of your patient’s anxieties about dentistry. Make sure the patient in your chair knows, understands, and feels assured about their procedure, etc. 
  • Rely on your skills and experience. It might help to pause, step back, and reassess the current procedure you’re facing. Some skillful reflection and colleague input could take the edge off of your stress in the moment. 

Survive with restfulness 

There’s an amount of useful truth to the phrase: take a deep breath.” Therein is a brief but necessary moment of rest. 

It’s a good idea to monitor your breathing when you feel a stressful period approaching. Tense muscles, labored or rapid breathing, and increased heart rate add to your already stressed body. 

There’s power in the pause.” Although action creates momentum and progress, a period of stress can diminish your physical reserves required for dentistry. That’s why taking care of yourself is so important.  

  • Give yourself permission to take a break. This can be hourly, during a procedure (momentarily), daily, weekly, and annually (as in a much-needed vacation). 
  • Stay fueled and hydrated. Skipping a meal or replenishing snack can drain your energy. Less energy means more performance-based stress.  
  • Treat yourself. As with permission to step away, its revitalizing to reward yourself in simple ways following a heavy procedure, a day’s, week’s, month’s, or quarter’s work, or victory over a stressful season of dentistry. 

Survival isn’t about always pushing-through, it’s also about knowing when to step away…and rest. Stress thrives on relentless activity while peace thrives on knowing your limits and when to push-pause. 

It’s also a beneficial to utilize the tools and resources that can help reduce your stress as a dentist. With Planet DDS, you won’t have to stress about staying organized or making sure your client information is secure. We help create a stress-free environment for you and your staff with Denticon Practice Management and Apteryx Imaging solutions. From immediate access to your patient’s images wherever you are to the ability to send reminder communications and adjusting your schedule quickly and easily, you will be able to take that much deserved break and recoup resting assured that your dental practice is running smoothly.

Check out these resources for practical ideas and tips: 

Develop an Entrepreneurial Mindset and Create a Thriving Private Dental Practice 

Dental Career Track Pt. 1: Fundamental Advice for Dentists Early in Their Career