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3 ways dental practitioners can calm stress

March 2, 2020
Dentistry is frequently identified as one of the most stressful occupations. Here's how to manage stress—and not let stress manage you.

Stress is an integral part of our everyday life. It gives us the strength to cope with the challenges we face. On the other hand, too much stress, especially at work, can cause health problems.

Causes of Stress

Dentistry is frequently identified as one of the most stressful occupations. Dentists face daily demands and a work situation that augments stress. For example, professional isolation, perfectionism, economic pressure, and patient fears are all key sources of stress.

  • Professional isolation—Dentists spend most of their days indoors. Apart from an assistant, a dentist is usually alone the whole day, and that leads to a sense of isolation.
  • Perfectionism—Many of the personality traits that are important to good dentistry are traits that predispose a dentist to depression and addiction. Among those characteristics are perfectionism, extreme focus, emotional control, and high and often unrealistic expectations of themselves, their associates, and their patients.
  • Economic pressure—Because of economic pressure, dentists often work overtime and wait too long to take vacations. This situation leads to physical exhaustion.
  • Time pressure—Dentists are under constant stress brought on by demanding appointment schedules.
  • Patient fears—Patient fear of the dentist can seriously disturb the relationship between dentist and patient, creating a stressful situation for both.

Manifestations of stress are both physical and emotional. The signs of physical stress include fatigue, headache, hypertension, hyperventilation, stomach upset, and pain. The signs of emotional stress include anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Psychological, physiological, and physical calming enable a dentist to counteract stress.

Psychological calming

In order to cope with stress, you must learn to recognize the cause and respond in the moment.

Take, for example, the stress caused by patient fears. One way of reducing your own stress is by making sure that the patient understands the procedure and has realistic expectations. Find out the source of the patient’s anxiety. That will help to avoid a stressful situation during and after the appointment. 

If you are stressed about a procedure you must perform, try pausing, stepping back, and looking at the situation from a different angle. Or consider consulting a colleague to give you a new perspective. Both approaches will reduce stress.

Physiological calming

We breathe automatically, but sometimes we forget how to breathe normally. In a stressful situation, pay attention to each breath you take. Breathe slowly and deeply, not with your chest but with your stomach. Under stress, we also tend to tense our muscles. Quickly scan your body and try to figure out which muscle is under tension, and then consciously relax it. When the body relaxes, the heart sets a normal rhythm and stress is reduced.

Physical calming

When you notice signs of physical stress, stop for a moment and let yourself rest. Take a break between patients. Do not let yourself work hungry. If you lack time to talk to your patients, engage your staff to either change your schedule or speak with the patients first and alert you to any potential problems, saving you from the longer conversations. Also, reward yourself. If you are, for example, a chocolate lover, treat yourself to chocolate after a stressful situation. 


The path to stress-free health is complex, but first steps include taking care of your psychological, psychological, and physical self. Good nutrition, exercise, rest, and conscious relaxation are important. You also need to give yourself permission to be frank and open about your needs, including setting aside time and space for psychological, physiological, and physical calming.  

Jen Butler, MEd, BCC, DAIS, is the founder of JB Partners, the SMaRT (stress management and resiliency training) firm for dental professionals to get stress management relief. Join the SMaRT Club for monthly tools, resources, and information by going to jenbutlerpartners.com