Top five mental health tips for dentists


There are a lot of good generic resources out there to help people look after their mental wellbeing, but what about advice tailored for dentists? As part of October’s Mental Health Month, we spoke with a psychologist for her top tips specific for dentists.

There’s no doubt 2020 has been a big year for everyone.

In addition to the continued health threat posed by COVID-19, there has been an underlying strain felt by the dental profession in such customer-facing, caring roles.

Here’s a psychologist’s top five tips and resources for dentists to identify, treat and prevent signs of fatigue before they lead to burn out and impact mental health.

1. Manage anxiety by finding ways to share it

For dentists, more often than not, patients are attending because they know that they have to and can be anxious, often managing fear around painful treatments in the past, or even nervous about cost.

Naturally, this can impact the enjoyment of a dentist’s day as they work to soothe and allay those fears, whilst also managing many other responsibilities. For many dentists, the care for patients begins well in advance of taking a look at their teeth.

“It’s natural to sometimes feel emotionally drained, or unable to switch off at the end of a demanding working day, which makes your own self-care crucial,” says Bupa psychologist Chanel Nesci.

“It’s important on these days to spend time acknowledging your own thoughts and needs, to help you manage the time and effort you put in to helping your patients feel calm and comfortable.”

Ms Nesci recommends regularly checking in on yourself and your team and trying to incorporate a debriefing session after any particularly difficult days or interactions. This helps both you and the team to clarify what has happened, assists in continuous learning and can highlight any need for support.

2. If you need support or someone to talk to, try the Dental Practitioner Support line

This service is the first national 24/7 telephone and online service available for dental practitioners and is completely anonymous. You can also use this service if you’re worried about the mental health of a colleague and not sure what to do.

Proactively reaching out for help can make a big difference to how we feel. Find out more here: https://www.dentalboard.gov.au/News/2020-07-06-Support-for-dental-practitioners-is-here.aspx

3. Pace yourself and carve out mini moments in time

Not only are dentists juggling patient emotions whilst performing tricky procedures – they do this while managing a high volume of patients and keeping to schedule.

While it can be tempting to keep a brisk pace with back-to-back appointments, it’s also helpful to carve out dedicated time in the day to give yourself some time for yourself, to eat, switch off, or do something you enjoy, even if this is brief. These breaks can be crucial to relieving physical tension in the body as well as emotional tension.

“It can be as simple as setting reminders in your phone or reminding each other as a team to take stretching breaks,” says Ms Nesci. “These mini-resets can help you recognise where you’re holding physical tensions and can also prompt you to actively try to let go of other things worrying you or on your mind.”

Practicing mindfulness, even if only briefly for five minutes, has been found to increase focus and productivity.

4. Connect with colleagues to swap stories and tips

It is also helpful to reach out for advice or a chat, to see how others in similar roles manage the busy days and swapping tips can be invaluable.

“Connecting with your colleagues and talking openly with one another at work can be incredibly beneficial for your own wellbeing, especially as our colleagues are often the people who truly understand our work-related experiences and can empathise with these,” says Ms Nesci.

Head to the Mental Block Facebook support group which is run by dentists for dentists and is a safe place to discuss stress with other dentists.

5. Create positive outcomes

Finally, practicing gratitude, especially in a busy role that is often challenging, can help us remember what we appreciate about the work that we do and why it’s important to us.

This is likely to be different for everyone, so take the time to identify and acknowledge the things about your role and work that you are grateful for. Thinking about why we pursued our careers in the first place can be a great place to start!

Practicing gratitude is a healthy habit that helps to build and maintain a positive frame of mind, strengthen and support relationships and enable us to maintain a mindset that can better help us to cope with the challenges we face throughout our lives.

Bupa is committed to supporting the mental health and wellbeing of our dental professionals and have a range of resources available to support you. Keep an eye out for these in our internal newsletters or ask your leader how to access them.