I don’t need to tell you how stressful a dental office can be on any given day! However, new research from the University of Plymouth indicates that this time pressure can lead to results much more dangerous than a missed lunch or reduced time for mental breaks throughout the day.
In fact, we know now that dentists are much more liable to miss crucial details when reviewing patient x-rays if they’re crunched for time.
What the Research Says
Despite dentistry’s infamy as a stressful field, very little research has been done to examine the effects of stress on a dentist’s performance.
In March 2019, researchers asked forty dentists to interpret x-rays with and without the addition of time pressure. Afterward, these dentists were also asked to rate their stress levels during their session with a time crunch versus their diagnostic session without time pressure.
Understandably, the dentists in the study reported feeling much more stressed when working under time constraints. Additionally, their performance was significantly hindered when pressured for time.
In other words, time pressure meant that dentists were more likely to make diagnostic errors and overlook potential warning signs offered by x-rays ‒ a devastating effect that has the potential to put patients in danger of missed diagnoses and worsening health.
Of course, I’d be remiss not to mention the potential legal complications of missed diagnoses for any practice, too!
Addressing the Problem
The risks documented in this study may land more personally than you expect. Instead of discarding this poignant research as something which could never happen in your own office, take some time to learn and implement a few tools to create a lower-stress environment within your practice.
1. Don’t allow stress to be contagious.
The cold, hard facts are that most people don’t enjoy their dental visits and, in fact, many patients downright fear the dental chair.
Whether you realize it or not, it’s easy for the fear and tension of your patients to seep into your own conscience while you’re working.
Avoid this by being perceptive of your patients’ anxiety, showing empathy and understanding to patients who are stressed out by their visit, and encouraging them to take a couple of long, deep breaths.
Not only will this improve your quality of care and improve the patient experience, but it will reduce your stress, too!
2. Exercise self-care at work.
Whether this means taking a quick break to enjoy your favourite tea, meditating during lunch, or simply showing compassion for yourself while you’re on the clock, make sure that self-care practices don’t stay at home during the day. Drink plenty of water, stretch, and consume well-balanced food during breaks and lunch.
If your body feels better, your mind will feel better, too.
3. Pinpoint what’s stressing you out.
Before you can reduce stress, you must work to identify the sources of stress.
Need some help? The top five causes of stress in the field of dentistry are: running behind schedule, excessive workload, causing a patient pain, caring for anxious patients, and treating patients who don’t show up on time.
Once you have a better idea of what’s stressing you out, you can take more targeted steps to adjust and relax.
4. Be positive.
Attitude is everything. Even if you’re not feeling positive, search for the humour in the day’s situations and put a smile on your face.
Not only will patients value this positive attitude, but it will also keep stress and burnout at bay!
It’s a Team Effort
One final note! It may be tempting to discard this research and these strategies if your role within your dental practice doesn’t involve the diagnosis of patients or x-ray review. However, don’t think for a moment that it’s not important for every member of a functioning dental practice to learn stress management in the workplace!
While the study discussed above specifically investigated x-ray diagnoses by dentists, dental hygienists and assistants are equally susceptible to making mistakes or sacrificing thorough care when office stress gets high.
I want to emphasize that the tips I’ve offered above apply not just to dentists, but to everyone.
Embrace them as you work to improve your practice’s environment, eliminate stress, and prioritize the best possible patient care.