Julie Deverick explains why care begins from within.
As dental professionals, we are constantly told to put our patients first. However, it is important to remember that dental practices are not just machines that provide care.
Every member of staff is a person with their own feelings, viewpoints and ideals. It is necessary to take the time to appreciate this and make ourselves and our colleagues feel valued.
Stress, depression and suicide
It’s no secret that dentistry is a high-stress profession. Research conducted among dental professionals routinely records high levels of stress, anxiety and burnout. Dentists, in particular, are well documented to have higher than average suicide rates.
This appears to be the case in all branches of the profession. However, some studies are proving that even student dentists, student dental hygienists and student dental therapists are at just as much risk of stressed or suicidal thoughts (Galan et al, 2014; Harris et al, 2017).
There are many reasons why these feelings may manifest, so it’s important for professionals to understand the causes so they can support themselves and their colleagues.
More than just dentistry
One of the core reasons for feelings of depression and burnout is likely to be the workload itself. We see multiple patients a day, and balancing the best level of care with admin, paperwork, and all the other tasks our roles entail can feel like an insurmountable endeavour, especially if there is pressure to achieve certain targets.
All staff will have different pressures thrust upon them. Because the roles within a dental practice are so diverse, it can be difficult to understand what others are going through. A practice manager, for example, will have completely different pressures than a dental therapist.
There are many different ways to relieve these pressures. Yoga and meditation may be an effective way to destress (Innes et al, 2012), while other activities such as exercise or even just treating yourself to things you know you enjoy may make a big difference.
Group activities such as team building may also help to broaden perspectives, helping the team to feel more connected.
Dental practices are prone to office politics just as much as any other organisation. This can cause individuals to harbour resentments and ill feelings. Especially if individuals feel like they are not given the chance to expand in their roles or further their careers.
There’s also a personality element that comes into play. Although it is impossible to ensure that everyone in a practice likes one another, this does not mean that staff should be able to get away with any gossiping or other negative behaviours, especially as these can quickly lead to people feeling bullied or victimised.
Research has revealed a significant relationship between workplace bullying and suicidal ideation that echoes similar situations present in schools (Leach, Poyser and Butterworth, 2017). This suggests that these behaviours may be one of the core reasons for professionals feeling depressed.
One way to prevent this behaviour is to encourage morning meetings with the whole team. These give individuals a platform from which to voice their concerns and a chance to solve any issues in a professional manner.
It may also be worth considering organising more team events for people to socialise outside of the stress of work. In these situations people can really get to know one another. This may lead to an enhanced sense of unity.
In many ways, working in dentistry can be quite a lonely profession. More than nine million people feel lonely in the UK. This is suggested to be on the rise, especially in the workplace.
Dental professionals spend a large proportion of their day seeing patients. It can be difficult to feel fulfilled socially when you are restricted by patient/professional limitations and only see people for set amounts of time.
This is even worse for professionals such as dental hygienists and dental therapists. It’s likely these individuals will have to travel between practices regularly and therefore will find it even harder to create a bond with the staff or establishments, let alone patients.
It’s also worth noting that dentistry, in general, is a profession fraught with negative connotations for patients. A large proportion of the population has dental anxiety or even dental phobias. Therefore the dentist is the last place they want to go. This is likely to make a majority of patients have negative feelings towards dental professionals in practice. This can quickly become difficult to deal with as people are rarely happy to see you.
One way to combat these feelings is to join an organisation that affords a sense of community. For example, the British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy (BSDHT). There are multiple opportunities to connect and network with others in the profession.
It has its own indemnity for dental hygienists and therapists and an easily accessible support line. The BSDHT can give you the help you need to concentrate on providing patients with the best care possible.
We all may have different reasons for feeling downcast while at work. It’s important we support others and accept support so that work continues to be a positive, productive atmosphere.
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This article first appeared in Oral Health magazine. You can read the latest issue here.