Given how many people say they fear or hate visiting the dentist, it’s no surprise that mental health issues are common among dental professionals. The American Dental Association reported in 2021 that the percentage of dentists diagnosed with anxiety had more than tripled from 2003 figures. Although statistics after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted are not easily available, the ADA also reported that in 2019, 11% of dentists were diagnosed with depression and 6% of dentists surveyed had an anxiety disorder, compared to just 3.1% of the general population. Four percent of dentists reported having panic disorders, while only 2.7% of the general population said the same. These numbers may have increased further since the additional pressures placed on the industry by the COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 certainly hasn’t helped, but there are other reasons why dental professionals often face mental health issues, as well as physical health issues.
Dentophobia – that’s one thing.
Let’s face it, most people don’t like going to the dentist. The drills, the noise, the needles. A 2009 Dutch study published in the European Journal of Oral Sciences reported that dental phobia (an uncontrollable, irrational, long-lasting fear) was the most common type of phobia, affecting 3.7% of adults in the study population. And of those surveyed, 24.3% reported a general fear of going to the dentist. In comparison, 34.8% said they were afraid of snakes.
These patients can talk about how unhappy they are to be in a dental office – even though their procedure is clearly necessary to maintain their oral health and avoid even worse problems in the future. As a business owner, it’s hard to hear some of your patients — your customers, in fact — tell you how much they hate being there.
Fearful patients may be more common in hospital settings than in private practice, says Dr. Graham Forbes of Capital Dental Design, who worked in hospital dentistry for two years. “I found a lot more fear there,” he says. “They get their care there, and they had no other choice (and) you seem to find that kind of phobia.”
The best way to alleviate fears and phobias, he says, is to be a “super empath” and take the time and do the first few injections and get the level of sedation needed.
Small mistakes – big consequences
Dr. Justin Scott of Baicy Dental in Henrico County shares some insight into other stressors in the industry: “Dentistry is both diagnostic and procedure based, so you have to diagnose the problem correctly. and solve it effectively,” he says, adding that unlike some medical professionals, dentists only have one chance to perform a procedure correctly because teeth don’t heal or grow back like tissue. soft. Additionally, dental procedures require tiny incisions – often just a few millimeters – under magnification and seen in a small mirror, inside a dark, damp space, and often upside down or at odd angles. The results of dentistry can be major for a patient’s overall aesthetics, since our smile is part of how we interact and communicate with others, and patients expect their dentist to maintain or correct their teeth. to their aesthetic standard and restores or maintains function.
Pay the bills
Many dentists are often small business owners, responsible for the salaries of their practice employees, insurance, and overhead costs. To achieve this, they must reach a certain level of income per day. It’s not just about providing quality care, it’s about doing it while keeping a roof over your head and the lights on. Because a dental practice team is often small, the dentist who owns the business is also responsible for the care of this close-knit working family, including job satisfaction, providing health insurance and other benefits. . This transforms the title of “dentist” in small practices into a business administrator, human resources manager, accountant, clinician and more.
COVID-19 has of course put a damper on the dental industry, Scott says. Although he feels more comfortable now that adequate PPE (personal protective equipment) and proper sterilization generally keep staff and patients safe, many patients are still fearful of the perceived potential risk.
It’s a tough life.
If you’ve never thought of dentistry as a physically demanding job, think again. Since dentists and hygienists can only adjust a patient’s positioning very little, their own bodies are often held in painful positions for long periods of time. Today’s dental chairs and operating stools have undoubtedly improved positioning and ergonomics, but there can still be significant physical stress on the body of dental professionals. In 2021, the ADA surveyed 20,000 US dentists, finding that 84% of dentists reported pain on the job – typically in the neck, shoulders and back. Another 14% said the pain was severe enough to interfere with their work.
Forbes cites the use of magnifying glasses that require you to sit down and not bend over so much. But loupes are heavy, sit on your face all day, and can stress your neck. He now uses a microscope to relieve neck stress and provide a more accurate view.
And there’s more…
Angela Smith, a teacher at Fortis College, has been a dental assistant educator for 14 years. She says that in her 10 years as a clinical dental assistant before moving into teaching, she was often frustrated dealing with patients with negative ideas about dentistry. “In addition to patients with phobias or who view dentistry simply as elective medicine, there are those who only come for emergency procedures and refuse to maintain routine oral health,” she says. “Even more frustrating were patients who requested cosmetic procedures such as teeth whitening but refused treatment for more urgent needs such as gum disease.” And the list of challenges goes on. Burnout is common, but after spending many years in the field, it’s not always possible to change, especially for those who are still repaying their student loans.
Mental Health Solutions
Some aspects of the dental industry will not change. Whether you’re a dentist or a hygienist, dental work often takes place in confined spaces that are typically windowless, and your area of focus is literally the size of a tennis ball.
William “Leigh” Smith Jr., a service technician in the dental industry for 25 years, has seen it all. “Doing dentistry is a bit like working in a coal mine. Regardless of advances in technology – instruments, lighting, digital mapping and imaging – you can’t change the fact that miners, just like dentists, always descend into a dark pit and do what they do.
What can I do to relieve this stress?
Scott says that in his experience, creating stress relief starts with maintaining a good work-life balance and doing things that bring you joy outside of the office. “It’s easy to turn work into a prison of personal stress,” he says. “You need to bring positive energy to the office and have team members who bring the same energy and enthusiasm.” It’s important, he says, because he spends as many hours with his staff as he does with his children during the work week.
This is all the more crucial for him since his wife, Dr. Sarah Ann Baicy, is also a dentist and co-owner of their practice.
“You need to bring positive energy to the office and have team members who bring the same energy and enthusiasm.” —Dr. Justin Scott
Work/life balance too often leans toward work, especially in a small practice or solo.
“As a solo doctor, it’s hard to take vacations,” Forbes says. There are resources, such as books and podcasts, that can help, Forbes says, as well as consulting companies.
He says it’s something that should be covered in dental schools, but time is limited.
It’s nice to be the boss, but there are downsides, like spending long hours with a spreadsheet, says Forbes.
It is useful to surround yourself with an efficient and top-notch team. “Every day isn’t sunny and rainbow,” says Forbes, “but it’s fun to be there, and on rainy days, we support each other.”
The American Dental Association recognizes that knowledge of mental health resources for dentists is an issue. According to their 2021 survey of 20,000 dentists, less than half of respondents were aware of dentist wellness programs. The ADA offers online resources including videos, podcasts, articles, manuals and guides that cover topics such as COVID-19, mental health resources, healthy work/life balance, managing stress and how to avoid burnout.
Resources are available, but are often underutilized. “In educating dental professionals, from dental school to dental hygiene school to dental assisting school,” says Smith of Fortis College, “we need to do a better job of providing seminars and segments of lectures on mental health”.