Dentistry IS Stressful

by Dr Rachel Hall, B.Ch.D (Uni Leeds UK), LDSRCS(Eng), MACNEM, Dental Surgeon, Brisbane, Australia

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. Everyone has high and often unrealistic expectations of what you can do with their teeth and hence the results you can achieve. No one seems to appreciate or understand how hard it is to fix a tooth when you are leaning over craning your neck, ruining your posture and straining your eyes just to be able to see it. Add to that battling a sea of saliva and tongues and lips that seem to develop superhuman strength as soon as you come anywhere near them and the process becomes near on impossible.

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, are constant worriers and 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. The challenging patients all seem to be booked in on the busiest and most demanding of days when you are already overwhelmed, pushed for time and frazzled by the constant bickering and the inability of your team to think or organise anything for themselves. Add to that you are running late, the tax is due and the bookkeeper needs to ask you a million questions, stock needs ordering and the most vital piece of equipment you need to run your business has just blown up and yes…. you’d be stressed too.

So how do dental school and university prepare the fresh-faced young and eager dentist to be able to cope with the pressures they will face once graduated and working in dental practice? In a nutshell it doesn’t, what it does do is put you under enormous amounts of pressure to learn, to achieve, and to come up to standard, pass exams every six weeks and see patients on clinic at the same time. And what happens if you complain? You are told, “if you can’t handle it here you’ll never cope in the real world.” Not entirely helpful or supportive. What it fosters is the suck it up and get on with it mentality, you dare not show you are fragile and not handling the work load as that simply doesn’t cut it. There is a massive culture of consuming caffeine, pastries, and sugary snacks and even taking speed to cope with how tired you are from the demands of studying day and night and using alcohol to unwind and party and let off steam.

So no wonder once we do graduate that we then rely on the same coping mechanisms to get by and handle the demands of daily practice, demands that we vent at our staff, patients, families and friends and use to beat ourselves up with. 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, a process that begins in dental school. 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, dentists and other health care professionals a different way of managing stress and caring for themselves so they would be better equipped to deal with life once they graduated? Would it not be healthier to find ways so as not feel so stressed in the first place and make that a part of their training? What if we could show them and dentists already in practice 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?

The philosophies and modalities of Esoteric Healing as taught by Serge Benhayon and Universal Medicine present a way of living that can provide this level of self-care and support. They are not airy-fairy mumbo jumbo nor are they difficult to apply. What Serge Benhayon presents in reality is a simple common sense approach to health and vitality that encourages you to care for and respect your body, an approach that is being supported by science and research studies.

Some of these philosophies and approaches to self-care include:

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 harm 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.

Sleep Quality

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 caring and nurturing of self 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 (e.g. every time I get frustrated I get a headache) then eventually the body will suffer aches and pains, digestive problems, emotional fluctuations, stress, tension etc and illness can result.

Gentle Exercise.

Exercise gently to keep the body fit, strong and supple. This assists us to be physically healthy without overstressing 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.

Meditation, Breath and Body Awareness

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 in our body. 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.

If the body is sore, stiff or painful then choose an appropriate modality or practitioner of body-work to assist with the release of tension and address musculoskeletal imbalances.

Seek Support

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.

By developing self-honesty and bringing awareness to the body we can be more connected to ourselves and listen to the feedback the body is sending us. We then have the choice to modify our posture, level of tension, breath, eating habits, thought patterns and emotions all of which can impact positively or negatively on our stress levels. We can then deal with our stress from moment to moment rather than waiting for it to build and build until we get sick, before we listen and make adjustments to the way that we live.

In this way we are able to foster the ability to look after ourselves from moment to moment during the day and employ real self-care and thus it becomes easier to reduce stress rather than simply having to manage it. Having less stress in our lives certainly must be a better approach to our health and our daily way of living.

I know personally from my years within dentistry that my coping mechanisms in the past were to turn to alcohol, heavy exercise, food and caffeine and that my moods, sleep patterns and levels of tiredness and exhaustion fluctuated wildly making me short-tempered, prone to outbursts of rage, with difficulty concentrating and a total disconnection to the people I was working with. I was in constant pain with neck, back and muscular issues but never sought help until it affected my ability to work. And then most of what I tried only offered short-term relief without actually addressing the underlying issues.

It was only after attending a workshop with Serge Benhayon in 2004 that my situation and health really began to change. Since then I have employed the methods of self-care as presented by Universal Medicine and found them to be more beneficial than other avenues that I had pursued. I am now a better, healthier and happier dentist able to share what I live with my patients and staff so as to foster an environment of true care within my dental practice in which not only do I feel calm and at ease but so also do my patients and staff.

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 would be a living example to those that they are caring for, treating and educating on wellbeing.

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266 thoughts on “Dentistry IS Stressful

  1. “So how do dental school and university prepare the fresh-faced young and eager dentist to be able to cope with the pressures they will face once graduated and working in dental practice? In a nutshell it doesn’t”

    You could actually say the same about many professions, university and school education does not prepare you for life.

  2. Rachel, not only is dentistry stressful, but other careers, full stop.

    I agree the education system, whether schools, university or trade schools, are ill equipped to prepare us for what is a head of us. Burnout is probably the dominant causer and prevalent in most careers.

    I can recall in my younger days as a Midwife, it was ‘normal’ to have late nights, or get drunk. And this cycle continued throughout my career and I became no wiser or fitter.

    Like yourself, since meeting Serge Benhayon, my self care has changed, not because he told me so, but my body was already signalling to me to do so. Through the presentations of Serge Benhayon and Universal Medicine, it confirmed what my body was feeling.

    Self care needs to be taken to another level, there is eating, drinking and keeping fit to support the body, to binge eating, getting drunk or relying on stimulants, smashing your body though hard core exercising or meditating for countless hours. I know which I prefer.

    Self-care needs to be at the front of all careers, it starts early, from the cradle to grave.

  3. I am always appreciative when I visit the dentist. They have spent many years of demanding training and exams to spend their time dealing with the disregard that many patients treat their dental and oral hygiene. We all share the responsibility of taking care of our teeth.

  4. I love the title. I am sure many of us can tell our own story with whatever the profession we may be engaged in and say it IS stressful, so the question is what are we going to do about that? We know very well how to numb and distract ourselves, and there are many band-aid solutions on offer as well – and none of them give us true answer. What you share here is pure gold and it costs nothing, and this blog was written 7 years ago, yet the world seems to be more exhausted than ever before. It makes me question whether humanity is actually interested in a truly healthy, joy-filled life, full of vitality. We may say we want to, but the way we have been carrying on doesn’t quite match that. There must be something we are finding far more attractive than that.

  5. Today we are always looking for the answers to stress, reducing sickness in the workplace as it’s costing businesses a fortune and here presented is a list that is so simple that it could change our lives and the way we deal with stress. If it can work for a dentist then it could work for many other professions, if not all.

  6. Self care is so simple when it is broken down like this – yet so absent from every profession. I don’t think there is a single person in the world who wouldn’t benefit from these simple, practical, down to earth steps to approaching life.

  7. Thank you for clearly illustrating why dentistry is stressful but also showing how it is possible to start making different choices that have an amazing impact on everyday life including at work and thus on our relationships both in and out of work.

  8. Rachel with so many areas of life being stressful what I get from your sharing is we can either try and find something that is not (but I’ve not found that yet) or instead change how we are in that industry and then be able to be doing nearly anything and not get stressed by it.

  9. It quite simply doesn’t make sense that we don’t equip health professionals with self care. Every profession really would benefit from the principles of self care you have listed, and why not even start this in primary school? And thanks also Rachel for your words on conscious presence, keeping the mind and body together otherwise the mind being like multiple computer programs running at once draining the body’s batteries – so true!

    1. Self care needs to start before we send children to school so that they can discern what is true for them and can be supported to make loving choices from the outset so that there is no way that they would accept the current dentistry training regime and thus would change the working lives of generations of dentists and potentially much wider than that.

  10. Thank God for Universal Medicine, we now have dentists like you who are vital and well capable of looking after themselves as well as others. A young man recently told me how he felt university was a place where young people got destroyed enough to become slaves to society. Seriously, what are we doing to young people through our so-called education system in exchange for giving out qualifications and degrees?

    1. Wow, Fumiyo, you have made a powerful statement, ‘university was a place where young people got destroyed enough to become slave to society’ – I could not agree with you more about this.

      We are slaves to life, and when do we become free from this? When we take responsibility for our own actions, it is that simple.

  11. “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.” This is sadly the case with doctors, nurses and nowhere more so than in our own families, when, even when asked, a suggestion to cut down on sugar for example is glossed over. Comfort ( and illness ) are then the victors.

  12. Fostering our innate sensitivity from young will ensure that those students are supported in implementing a self-caring manner into their working lives as it would be normal to pay attention to their body.

  13. These elements of self care would be valuable for any industry or profession to teach to their students and especially in health care where burnout is so high.

  14. I agree Rachel, there is such a need for self-care to be included in the curriculum for anyone studying medicine or dentistry etc. You only need to see the rising statistics on Doctors committing suicide to know that something seriously needs to change as the health and well being of our medical practitioners are at risk, and are not coping with the demands and stresses within their professions. Your article Rachel provides valuable insight into how you have supported yourself to be such a successful dentist and not at the expense to your health and wellbeing.

  15. Thank you Rachel, it makes a pleasant change to read first hand experience of how to deal with stress at work, as many firms who are employed to deal with stress in the work place are too stressed to get anything positive into the work place, starting with self care for ourselves is a great place to start.

  16. Applying self care is simple as you show us, it is very practical. When we don’t consider ourselves the victim of the circumstances we are in we’ll take responsibility to live in a self caring way and yes, every health care provider should be a living example to those that they care for no matter if you are a dentist, a nurse, a doctor and so on. Selfcare should be on the agenda every where.

  17. The way professional people are trained needs a complete overhaul, they should be trained how to cope with stress not put under so much stress they come out burnt out before they even start stressful jobs.

  18. Such a simple, practical, no nonsense approach to supporting ourselves to live a stress free life. Great advice that comes from an endless source of wisdom which is readily accessible to everyone. By taking this on board ourselves, and live as you do Rachel even in a stressful environment, then others cannot but be inspired.

    1. I have a work colleague who calls me on a regular basis and when we have finished our chat, they always appreciate the time we have spent together; they say they feel so much better within themselves less stressed. I feel certain that they can feel I’m not stressing and so they feel they can chill out too.

  19. Thank you for sharing this – Stress is a huge factor – and I spoke to someone today who said that someone in their 30’s suffered a heart attack due to stress, and went into hospital to find that other people in his ward were a similar age. That shows you how bad it is getting. And yet we are not truly looking at ways to support ourselves on how to not get to that point. What you share here about the quality of sleep, eating to support our bodies, living in a way where we express fully – all of these are tools that we can start to introduce simply into our lives.

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