Dentistry can be a rewarding profession, especially for people who thrive on helping others. However, like other healthcare-related fields, the dental field is also very demanding. Dentist working conditions such as long hours, cranky patients, and staffing issues all contribute to burnout for dental professionals. If dental providers don’t manage dentist burnout, they can become so stressed that they drop out of the dental industry entirely.
A 2021 study from the American Dental Association found that 16% of dentists experienced anxiety due to the pressures of the job. Many dentists don’t know how to recognize burnout, and fewer still know what to do about it. Below, learn how to solve the challenge of dental burnout in your practice.
What Are the Symptoms of a Dentist Burnout?
What does burnout look like in the dental profession?
- Emotional exhaustion is one of the first symptoms of burnout that many dentists notice. Dentists and dental staff suffering from workplace stress may find it nearly impossible to get out of bed in the morning. They may lack the energy to give patients the time and attention they deserve.
- Prolonged fatigue. Unlike regular fatigue, chronic stress-related burnout doesn’t go away after a good night’s rest. Even taking an extended vacation won’t seem to help much. If you still feel exhausted after taking a vacation, you could be suffering from dental burnout.
- Cynicism. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cynicism is another sign of burnout. Dental students often enter the field eager to learn and help as many patients as possible. But after years of non-stop work-related stress, cynicism starts to take hold.
- Less sense of accomplishment. A dental provider may think, “What’s the point?” or “Nothing I do matters, so why bother?” They might develop depersonalization, which causes them to feel distant and detached from their work. Their job no longer gives them any sense of personal accomplishment. For instance, even if a dental surgeon successfully completes a difficult procedure, they might say to themselves, “So what?”
- Irritability. Dentists and dental staff suffering from cynicism become agitated and irritable, which seeps into interactions with patients and employees. Their attitude can drive away employees and cause patients to seek care at a different dental practice.
- Physical symptoms. Professional burnout can also cause physical complaints, such as headaches, stomachaches, and fatigue. Dentists and dental staff may visit their doctors for answers, only to hear that there’s no specific cause.
- Isolation. Dentist and dental staff burnout can cause a normally social and extroverted person to retreat into isolation. Dentists suffering from burnout-related stress simply lack the energy to deal with others. Even something as small as a phone call can feel completely overwhelming to a burned-out dentist or dental assistant.
- Substance overuse. Dentists and dental staff with heavy stress often turn to alcohol and drugs to help them cope. Substance overuse can quickly turn into an unmanageable problem with serious personal and professional consequences.
Why Take Burnout Seriously?
It’s normal to experience some stress in any work environment, but burnout is more insidious than that. If general dentists or dental auxiliaries ignore the signs of burnout, it could impact their personal lives and careers.
Risk to Professional Dental Practice or Career
Because dentist burnout causes such a drop in energy, productivity and job satisfaction can suffer. Dentists who could once serve dozens of patients a day might only be able to handle five or six. They might even tell their team to cancel dental hygiene appointments with no notice, which can cause patients to leave angry reviews and possibly even switch to a new dental practice.
Dentists and dental staff dealing with burnout can make more mistakes in their work, too. They might accidentally hurt a patient they’re working on or prescribe the wrong medication. If the mistakes are egregious enough, a patient might sue the dentist for malpractice. Just one lawsuit could be enough to shutter a dental practice for good.
Burned-out dentists suffering from extreme irritability can drive away even the most dedicated employee. They may regularly yell at workers and blame them for their own mistakes, causing workers to quit en masse. And if employees quit due to an onslaught of verbal abuse, word may get around. That means the practice will likely have trouble attracting new staff members, and without talented workers, it won’t take long for the dental office to close down.
Risk to Personal Life
Burnout doesn’t only come with professional consequences. Burned-out dentists may have problems separating their work from their personal lives, according to the University of Utah Health. They may allow work problems to bleed into other parts of their lives or take out their feelings of frustration on family and friends.
They may also have trouble maintaining a good work-life balance. If all they can think about is work, they might find it nearly impossible to relax or enjoy once-favorite hobbies. An inability to enjoy downtime can make burnout even worse because it doesn’t allow time to set work aside and focus on self-care and relaxation.
Burnout can make dentists and dental staff feel too physically or mentally unwell to spend time with loved ones. People with burnout might also have symptoms of depression, such as feelings of hopelessness, low self-esteem, and suicidal thoughts. People suffering from this syndrome may isolate themselves and feel worthless, as though they don’t deserve anything that could make them happy.
How To Prevent Dentist Burnout
Wondering how your dental practice can stave off dentist burnout and stress? Try these strategies to help manage dentistry and mental health:
- Set realistic expectations for yourself and your team. It can be tempting to overbook patients, but that’s a surefire path to stress for both you and your workers. Only book as many patients as you can comfortably serve during working hours each day.
- Take plenty of breaks. You may be thinking, “My patients need me! I can’t afford to take time off.” But breaks are critical for your own well-being. After a well-deserved break, you’ll feel more refreshed and ready to tackle your day.
- Automate as many tasks as you can. Software like Weave allows you to automate appointment reminders, payments, review requests, and online scheduling. With Weave, your practice can save up to 20 hours a week, reducing tedious busy work for you and your team.
- Don’t let your interests and hobbies fall by the wayside. Taking the time to enjoy your favorite things is one of the best ways to prevent stress and burnout from setting in.
- See a doctor or a therapist if you need help coping with stress. A doctor may prescribe you medication or share strategies to help with burnout-induced anxiety and depression.
Burnout: Not Just a Problem for Dentists
As a dentist, you’re not the only one in your office who can struggle with burnout. Your dental hygienist, assistant, and lab technician can get burned out, too.
Retaining Dental Staff
As a practice owner, how can you prevent burnout in your employees? The WHO recommends these practice management tips for dental practitioners:
- Watch for signs of employee burnout and address them promptly. If workers seem unusually irritable or stressed, consider giving some of their tasks to other workers to ease their burden a bit.
- Provide training to teach employees how to handle work-related stress. Your training should also include strategies on how to cope with conflict in a healthy way.
- Arrange shifts to avoid fatigue. If your office can accommodate it, consider allowing employees to choose their preferred schedule.
- Encourage open communication between yourself and your team. Tell employees that they’re welcome to come to you with any work problems.
- Show and tell your team that you appreciate them. Feeling underappreciated is a major factor in burnout, according to Eastern Washington University.
- Automate tasks with Weave dental software to reduce the load on your team. According to a Weave survey in The 2022 State of Dental Staffing, 66% of healthcare professionals were short-staffed in 2022. Weave can automate many tasks for your dental practice employees, which could help reduce feelings of stress and burnout.
While a dental career can be incredibly rewarding, it can also be demanding and stressful. Dentists and dental staff are exposed to many challenges and pressures that can affect their physical and mental health.
To prevent and address this in your dental practice, it is important to recognize the signs and symptoms, seek professional help when needed, and practice self-care strategies such as setting boundaries, taking breaks, finding support, and engaging in hobbies. By taking care of yourself and your staff, you can also take better care of your patients and staff.