Physical, Mental Self-Care Key strategies in managing daily stress of dental practice


ore than one in five dentists (22 percent) were consid- ered to have a moderate level of depression, and four percent had a high level of depression, according to a 2015 survey. Although just one in 10 dentists were

considered at high risk for alcoholism, nearly one in five thought they should cut down on drinking. While 17 percent of dentists used pain- killers on a regular basis, less than two percent reported using opiates, according to the survey.

About half of dentists, men as well as women, said it would be dif- ficult for them to seek professional help because they think they should be able to solve their own problems. Dentists who responded this way were more likely to have hearing loss for which they did not seek evaluation or treatment and score high on depression indicators, while not reporting a diagnosis of depression and have undiagnosed chronic pain that interfered with work.


Connie Pederson, PhD, a certified drug and alcohol counselor who works with dentists, said many of her patients cite employee-related issues as one of their biggest stressors.

Many dentists now have practice managers who tell them how to maximize their earnings, but the negative impact is often oversched- uling. “Dentists take decent vacations, but tend to work too many hours and too long of days, and then they just work for vacation,” Pederson noted.

In addition, many dentists are working with patients who have been traumatized in various ways, including domestic abuse and sexual assault.

“If they are working with traumatized patients the majority of the time, they need to have some way of releasing that negativity before they go on to something else,” she said. “If you haven’t worked with trauma patients before, you don’t know how it impacts you. If a den- tist hasn’t done it, they should get supervision and talk to someone who is a mentor, because the experience can be pretty toxic.”

Steven Donaldson, LPC, also frequently counsels dentists and said that even beginning in dental school, oral health professionals tend to place a singular focus on their education and training, and then their profession.

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“It’s easy for physicians of any kind to over-identify with their work, so it becomes their life,” he said. “When people put a lot of themselves into their profession, it’s easy for that to become their identity.”

Donaldson added that when oral health professionals are good at what they do and patients want to see them, it’s often difficult to say “no.” He shared an example of an orthopedic surgeon who was the only one who could perform a particular procedure in his practice area and found it extremely difficult to take time off from work.

“They have to get out of that hero status and realize they can’t save the world,” he said.

Dental consultant Jon Schatz said many of the dentists he works with discuss the stress they experience in being able to manage the busi- ness of dentistry, including employees, income and savings/retire- ment goals. Depending on the person, they may feel underprepared, overwhelmed or a combination of both.

“It’s really difficult to go into depth and detail about how to be a busi- ness owner and an entrepreneur,” Schatz said. “In most situations, entrepreneurs work in a corporate setting or for an employer and then strike out on their own. Dentists, on the other hand, start their practice on their own, and they are really left to try to figure things out without having that business training or background.”

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