A little stress helps people to stay alert and focused and heightens the ability to meet challenges positively. However, when the pressure becomes too much it can be harmful and lead to physical problems including sleeping difficulties, muscle tension and headaches as well as cognitive problems such as memory and concentration, which can impact on mood and behaviour. When stress levels are left to build, more concentration is required to relieve the cause and a vicious circle can develop easily.
It is well documented that dentistry is a demanding profession. Practitioners work long hours often sitting in the same position completing meticulous work, which can give rise to both physical and mental strain. Dentistry involves a thorough working knowledge of medicine, physics, artistry and significant attention to detail, which when combined with the responsibility of maintaining clinical excellence and delivering quality patient care can be very stressful.
Dental workers are continually subjected to time constraints; they are required to ensure the sleek management of their patient list whilst dealing with any additional demands that may arise all without running behind. They must also continually perform to the exacting standards that are expected of them by their patients and colleagues as well as regulators and governing bodies. And, practitioners that have dual roles as practice owners or managers also have a myriad of additional tasks and responsibilities to take on to ensure the smooth running of the business. Often it can be a finely tuned juggling act that can make the stress levels of even the most capable spiral out of control.
In a recent survey, over a third of dentists stated that they were anxious most working days and 48% listed running late as being the main cause of stress. Other significant causes included conflicts between team members, patient complaints, compliance, finance and gaps in the appointment book. Another exploratory study also identified six sources of dentists’ stress: problems of patient compliance, causing pain or anxiety to patients, interpersonal relations, the physical strain of work, economic pressures, third-party constraints and the strain of perfectionism and seeking ideal results.
The wellbeing of the entire dental team as well as the patients depends on the successful management of occupational strains. It is important to identify the root of tension and troubles and to look at how things can be improved. As most will be aware, when the practice is running efficiently and amicably, the benefits professionally, financially and for each dental team member are significant.
There are a number of areas that practice owners and managers can consider that can help to create and maintain a calm working environment. For example, it is worth looking at the way the appointment system operates and applying changes if necessary to ensure that it is effective and efficient and that dentists are not constantly running late. It is imperative that the practice is designed and organised to allow optimum-working practices and streamlined efficiency. Unnecessary pressure can be reduced by implementing or updating written practice systems and protocols to ensure that everyone knows precisely what is expected of them and that all duties are covered and completed efficiently, every time. Treatment rooms should also be ergonomically designed, tidy and well stocked with equipment and materials to help to reduce physical strain and avoid any delays or increased anxiety to both practitioners and patients.
The best possible care of patients is the priority for all dental professionals and although most often, the dental team gain strength by working closely together, it can inevitably cause friction and interpersonal problems. However, conflicts within the dental team can often be resolved easily when plans are put in place to deal with troubles quickly and encourage good communication strategies.
It is always a good idea to look at the duties that each dental team member and practitioner is able to carry out within their scope of practice and to ensure that the practice is taking full advantage of their skills. In the same way, some members of the team may like the opportunity to complete further training or access support to enable them to expand their remit. People perform better when they feel valued and are able to make specific contributions to the team and distributing the workload effectively means less pressure for everyone.
Its vital to consider staffing levels regularly to make sure that no individual team member feels overwhelmed or overstretched, as this is when pressure mounts and mistakes can occur. Dental practices could also form a good working relationship with a trustworthy referral practice such as London Smile Clinic, with a team of highly experienced dental professionals, qualified and equipped to take on complex cases. Having an effective referral system in place for complicated procedures or particularly anxious patients has the potential to significantly reduce stress and time issues.
By minimising the causes of unnecessary tension at work, your dental team will feel happy and appreciated, which of course, transfers to patients. Those practices that plan well, review working protocols regularly and are prepared to make changes to create a calm and harmonious working atmosphere are the ones that will remain successful and profitable.
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About the author
Dr Tim Bradstock-Smith is principal of the London Smile Clinic, an award-winning centre of excellence in dentistry that is based in Central London. The Clinic offers an extensive range of services, which include specialist orthodontics, implant dentistry and dentures.
 Survey conducted by Joanna Taylor, Clinical Hypnotherapist and published in Dentistry Magazine, February 2012. Stress in the dental practice. http://www.joanna-taylor.co.uk/stress-in-the-dental-practice.html#.VnE9eWSLSi5 [Accessed 16th December 2015]
 Stress in the Workplace survey conducted online by Harris Interactive on behalf of the American Psychological Association between January 12 and January 19, 2012. http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2012/03/well-being.aspx [Accessed 16th December 2015]