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Stress: The Essential Guide That Will Help Your Dental Practice

Even in the best of times, managing stress in your dental practice  is a serious issue. This makes sense: After all, you're tasked with helping people keep their teeth and gums healthy while also responding to dental emergencies and anxious patients.

That takes a mental and physical toll on all your employees, and the past two years haven’t been “the best of times.” In fact, few dental professionals can remember a more complicated, stressful period in their careers. The addition of pandemic-related stress on top of standard stress in the workplace has everyone concerned about the overall well-being of healthcare workers. All of this has led to a major increase in depression and anxiety around the world. 

However, there is good news. While keeping your employees’ stress to a minimum is tough, there are still effective steps you can take to help your team manage stress at work. When you put employee well-being first and encourage open communication, you're better able to identify and address stress in your employees before the problem gets too big. 

Table of Contents

Impact of Dental Workers’ Job Environment and Their Mental Health

The clear connection between dental work and healthcare workers’ stress prompted a variety of studies. In one example, researchers examined the specific factors associated with physical and mental symptoms of stress. Some of the most compelling findings include the following: 

  • The combination of human contact and the need to make decisions quickly, especially when those decisions are critical to patient health, is the primary reason stress in dentistry is so common. 
  • Within the profession, some positions generate greater levels of stress than others. For example, ICU nurses are more likely to feel intense work-related stress than their peers in internal medicine. 
  • Excessive workload contributes to stress in the workplace, as does understaffing. In this economy, understaffing is a major issue that increases healthcare workers' stress. 
  • While each individual manages stress differently, and different factors cause stress depending on the person, common contributions to stress include ethical dilemmas, excessive demands from new patients and/or their families, workplace tension, and lack of support from peers and leaders. This is one of the many reasons it's so important for team leaders to be adept at helping employees manage stress at work. 
Stress: The Essential Guide That Will Help Your Dental Practice

It's worth noting that healthcare workers' stress is more common among employees who do not feel heard when work-related decisions are made. In dental practices where leaders and team members collaborate on solutions, stress levels are lower. For example, permitting dental hygienists and technicians work through scheduling issues together rather than having a schedule handed to them can contribute to feelings of empowerment and help them manage stress at work. 

This helps explain why regular check-ins with your dental team are so important: Your team may be in trouble, and you may miss it completely. Regular meetings to check on your employees’ stress are essential. Keep them brief, ask how your team is doing, and see if you can do anything to help manage stress at work. Furthermore, using HR for Health's all-in-one software solution, you can keep documentation of these meetings, as well as any other documents that you want to keep on file or make available to your employees. All of this can help you control your employees’ stress. 

Examples of Stress in the Dental Industry

It's possible to spot employee  stress in your dental practice when you know what to look for, which can help you manage stress levels at work. Two of the biggest signals that stress has become unmanageable include sudden drops in performance and burnout. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce these issues. 

When patients experience traumatic events, their dental professionals are impacted, too. It’s a phenomenon known as “secondary traumatization” or “compassion fatigue.” The very act of caring for traumatized patients transfers some of the trauma to the dental professionals involved. This can result in huge increases in your team’s  stress.

Sometimes, a single significant event is enough to cause compassion fatigue. Other times, it's the buildup of many events over time. In either case, signs include: 

  • Depersonalization of patients.
  • Ongoing feelings of exhaustion — both physical and emotional.
  • Irritability.
  • Anger — typically directed inward.
  • Low job satisfaction.

Burnout is similar to compassion fatigue, but there are a few nuances that put it in a slightly different category. Rather than feeling unable to connect with dental patients, team members experiencing burnout feel negative toward the job. These issues can vastly increase the challenges of managing stress at work.

Signs of burnout among your employees include: 

  • Loss of enthusiasm for the work.
  • Clear lack of motivation to perform the job well.
  • Worry or anxiety about work-related issues while outside of the workplace.
  • A general sense that the job has no value.
  • Demonstrated resentment toward team members, leaders in the practice, or the practice itself.
  • Ongoing feelings of exhaustion — both physical and emotional.
  • Frequent tardiness or absenteeism
  • Missed deadlines.
  • Poor concentration. 
  • Unusual increase in errors.
  • Interpersonal conflict with other team members.
Stress: The Essential Guide That Will Help Your Dental Practice

These signs don’t always mean your dental practice is seeing a major increase stress, but it may mean that something is wrong, and that you need to redouble your efforts to manage stress at work. If you notice these behaviors, it’s time to sit down with the team member to talk through the situation. Furthermore, many issues — such as tardiness and absenteeism — tend to start early in a team members tenure. Thanks to our tardiness and absenteeism tracking features, you can immediately see if you have a problem brewing, allowing you to catch trends early on and reverse them before they become a major problem.

With the right intervention, your team member may be able to get back on track. 

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How the Body Deals with Stress

Changes in behavior aren’t the only symptoms of  stress. In many cases, stress can cause physical symptoms as well. That’s because normal stress serves an important purpose. It prompts physical changes that ensure humans are more aware of their surroundings, motivated to adapt to a new situation, and fully prepared to avoid any danger that presents itself. 

The trouble is that chronic stress keeps the body in a constant state of high alert. That’s exhausting, and it can lead to any or all of the following


Stress: The Essential Guide That Will Help Your Dental Practice
  • Body aches
  • High heart rate
  • Chest pain
  • Issues with falling or staying asleep
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • High blood pressure
  • Tension in the muscles
  • Jaw clenching and/or teeth grinding
  • Digestive issues
  • Weak immune system
  • Sexual dysfunction

Any one of these would be difficult to live with over time. A combination is simply unsustainable and can make managing stress at work impossible. That’s why it's so important to support your dental team in managing stress at work and practicing self-care so that you can both provide support and also avoid schedule interruptions due to employee absenteeism.

How Employee Stress Can Be Controlled

Stress is part of any job in dentistry, and a certain amount is to be expected. However, that doesn’t mean you should give up and accept burnout as inevitable. Some ways to support your team in learning to manage stress at work include the following: 

    • Start with education — compassion fatigue and burnout can occur over time and make it harder to identify. Ensure your team knows the signs and understands when and how to ask for help. These educational materials can be easily stored in our comprehensive HR software solution.
    • Create a culture of communication — encourage team members to talk with each other and you when they begin experiencing symptoms of stress in the workplace.
    • Integrate empowerment into the workplace — help team members get involved with making decisions about their working conditions.
    • Ensure your team takes the appropriate meal and rest breaks throughout the day, and promote utilization of paid time-off benefits. Vacation days are an important way for your employees to relax, recharge, and return to work refreshed.
Stress: The Essential Guide That Will Help Your Dental Practice
  • Offer resources for obtaining support when stress in the workplace is overwhelming. That might be a list of referrals, an Employee Assistance Program benefit, a leave of absence, or other options for getting help. Furthermore, practices should look into their specific state laws to see if any leaves may apply to the employee’s individual situations. HR for Health can help you manage these issues as well. 

It’s a hard time to be in dentistry, but the work of your practice is important for helping your patients maintain their oral health. Your team members can do their best work and provide exceptional patient care when they aren’t struggling with the symptoms of stress. Your job, as the practice owner and their leader, is to support them in their efforts to manage stress at work.

Unfortunately, sometimes, your employees may struggle. When this happens, their performance may suffer. This is why tracking performance metrics such as client satisfaction and efficiency is so important. Doing so can give you early insight into whether your employees need help to manage stress at work. Thanks to our performance module, you can see how your employees are doing, easily run reports on their performance, and see if an intervention is needed early. You can also track performance reviews, which are employee notes that you can keep in a document form. These quick notes work similar to post-its, but easily integrate into our comprehensive HR software. 

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Self-Care for Dentists

If you're experiencing stress in the workplace, or you simply want to reduce the likelihood that your stress levels will get out of hand, consider taking proactive steps to manage stress at work. Examples of these include: 

  • Speaking with peers, leaders, and trusted loved ones about your stress.
  • Staying open to professional support if the stress begins to disrupt your health.
  • Spending time outside.
  • Keeping to a routine.
  • Engaging in activities that are fun and interesting — and completely unrelated to your work.
  • Taking advantage of paid time off, vacation, and the practice’s leave benefits as needed.

Of course, these go hand-in-hand with the three basic building blocks of good health. Be sure you don’t neglect sleep, diet, and exercise — the best preventative measures available. 

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It's also important to note that your practice management plays an important role in reducing stress and managing stress at work. You should communicate your expectations with them and make it easy to manage internal practice functions (like clocking in and out). You should also check in with your team members, see how they're doing, and offer resources about how to manage stress. This can be included in your Employee Handbook, which should be updated annually with the latest resources. At HR for Health, we can handle this process for you.

Managers should also be sure to help prevent burnout. Doing so can improve performance, help employee retention, and control stress. As such, make sure to check on PTO or vacation time regularly , and encourage your team members to take time off when they need it. Thanks to HR for Health, you can use our benefits tracking feature, enabling you to track how much PTO time, sick time, and vacation time has been used. 

How HR for Health Can Help Manage Stress at Work

HR for Health is an all-in-one HR software solution dedicated to helping the dental, optometry, and veterinary industries, among others. Our human resources platform features all the tools practice owners need to manage payroll, timekeeping, 401(k), and more with total integration and ease. 

Whether you’re looking for HR support for a small business or you’re a large group dental practice, HR for Health has the solution to fit your practice and budget. Reach out to a HR for Health account representative to learn more. Schedule an HR Consultation