I have been discovering more about this with Joanna Taylor, the author of a 2012 published research paper “Stress in Dentistry – A Study”. The first thing that you notice about Joanna is that she has an air or peace and calm about her and in her own words “despite being married to a dentist for 25 years!”. Inspiring stuff, but what is fascinating about Joanna is that she is both extremely qualified on paper to speak and advise about this subject and practically experienced with it too. Behind the scenes she offers a very discreet service to dentists and their teams, those suffering from what was once called “burnout” if it was ever talked about at all. I have always been quite open about my own experiences within the corporate world, experiences that very nearly drove me to destruction and I know that the opportunity to talk about stress, burnout, wellbeing or whatever title we might choose should be recognised for the value it provides.
When the British Dental Association assessed levels of personal wellbeing among UK Dentists (Kemp & Edwards, 2014), the findings of which indicated that dentists reported lower levels of personal wellbeing when compared with the general UK population. The study found that:
“All dentists [who responded in the two surveys] indicated lower levels of life satisfaction than adults in the general population; for example, dentists were between two and three times more likely than UK adults to indicate very low levels of life satisfaction.” Levels of happiness amongst the profession were found to be significantly lower (38% of dentists reporting low levels, compared with 28% of UK adults) and anxiety higher (53% of dentists reporting high or very high levels compared with 39% of UK adults).
Dentistry, like every profession, has its own particular stressors; the comparative isolation of the practitioner, dealing with anxious and stressed patients, missed appointments, running late and, increasingly, the concern over patient complaints and possible litigation are all factors which contribute towards heightened stress and, for some, can lead to more severe anxiety and depression. (Taylor, 2012.)
In a study on suicide rate within the dental profession (Lange et al, 2012) the authors also make the generalisation that dentists can often display perfectionistic tendencies. This character facet may well contribute to higher stress levels; for example if limitations on time factors compromise an individual’s ability to perform to the best of their ability – or, conversely, the desire to achieve perfection results in running behind schedule for the following patients. Work that is undertaken tends to be consistently underrated because the perfectionist dentist will focus on any perceived lack of perfection, so that nothing is ever good enough, even when the patient is manifestly happy with the result.
As Myers & Myers, in their 2004 study on stress and health in the general dental practitioner found:
“Being a professional within healthcare has long been identified as a high-stress occupation due to the combination of difficult working circumstances, exposure to potentially hazardous diseases, human suffering and ability to affect human life.”
Perfectionism is a tendency often displayed within the profession. Whilst excellence is achievable, perfection is not – changing this construct can therefore create liberation from the stress of the unattainable goal. Depression, low self-esteem and feelings of isolation are all contributory factors in the high levels of burnout and, are issues which can be helped through psychotherapeutic intervention. From a research project recently undertaken by Joanna, it was noted that there was a general consensus between each of the interviewees that members of the dental profession have a tendency to not call for help until it is too late; there is a perceived need to appear “strong” and a fear of any request for help resulting in a fitness to practice enquiry. All of the interviewees who had received professional help to recover from breakdown cited the need within the profession for a safe, confidential, non-judgemental environment where they could discuss their issues without putting their career at risk. If this was widely available and perceived as a useful means of support within the profession, it is possible that the stigma attached to seeking help could be reduced.
Rose and Co have now teamed up with Joanna to provide very discreet services and if you recognise that stress may be having an impact upon you, your motivation and ultimately your patient care then we can help. These services will be published on our website shortly but that does not need to stop you from contacting us now. We hope that this helps.