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How to fall back in love with dentistry

Jan. 17, 2022
If exhaustion and frustration have overtaken your passion for dentistry, you're not alone. But the good news is there are steps you can take to regain your love for the profession.

Talk to any recent dental school graduate, and they’ll tell you how excited they are about launching their career in dentistry. It’s a profession with great potential, but its demands often take precedence, and the promise of dentistry begins to fade. In fact, a 2016 study among new grads found that already 39.27% of them attributed burnout to emotional exhaustion and 47.83% to frustration.1 It’s a downward trend that many of us have experienced at various stages—including me.

I’ve been practicing dentistry since 2006, and my enthusiasm began to wane after about eight years. Burnout replaced the passion, and the career I once loved was tinged with regret. A significant part of my weariness came from factors that seem to affect many dentists: feeling compelled to do things I didn’t want to, worrying about my clinical skill level, the pressure of living up to my patients’ expectations, and the responsibility of the management side of things, to name a few.

Desperate to regain my love for dentistry, I began to assess my situation and seek new opportunities for greater fulfillment. After discovering and applying the four key steps below to my practice and to myself, I learned to once again enjoy the things that inspired me to become a dentist in the first place.

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Integrate technology into your practice

Incorporating technology that can improve what we do for our patients, and ultimately ourselves, can’t be overestimated. In my case, I’ve integrated the completely digitally guided CEREC (chairside economical restoration of esthetic ceramic) software into my practice and have since achieved more predictable and higher-quality results for my patients.

On the surface, this software seems to be a purely clinical achievement. For one, performing CEREC procedures on my patients has helped ensure better-fitted crowns and implants. This process also saves my patients time; performing a traditional crown required them to wear a temporary one for two weeks before returning for their permanent placement, but CEREC software offers the luxury of same-day crowns. Another benefit is less sensitivity and minimal lifestyle changes, such as having to refrain from eating certain foods for a while.

However, using CEREC has also improved the way I practice. The software gives me better control over how and when I treat my patients, providing a degree of ease and predictability that has proven to be invaluable. Another plus is that my patients’ satisfaction directly affects my own. The happier they are, the more delighted I am, and CEREC is responsible for much of that, improving my overall perception of dentistry along the way.

Invest in yourself and your skills

Sometimes we grow so accustomed to relying on what we know about dentistry— especially the technology and procedures—that we forget about all the opportunities available that can propel us further. I didn’t want to resist change by getting too comfortable with what I knew and how I currently performed my job. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone by strengthening my skills and knowledge helped me rediscover the integrity of our profession.

Adopting new tools, such as CEREC, to improve my practice was one step, but expanding my knowledge and skills from them was another. I took CEREC courses and continuing education courses on implants so I could enhance my capabilities through cutting-edge technology. Taking these courses helped change my mindset, knowing that increasing my knowledge would lead to a confidence boost where it had been lacking.

Find your voice and purpose

Although maturing provides a natural path to finding out who we truly are, we don’t need to wait for an epiphany. The sooner I understood how to lead and be secure in my role as a dentist, the fewer bumps I hit along the way. I’ve learned a lot about leadership by reading many books on the subject, and they’ve given me more assurance in managing myself and my practice and how I take care of my patients. In addition to Wayne Dyer’s Wishes Fulfilled: Mastering the Art of Manifesting and The Power of Intention and Brené Brown’s books and podcasts, a particular standout is Simon Sinek’s Start with Why, which offers great leadership advice and tips on discovering the group “why” and the individual “why.”

Following are some key leadership takeaways:

  • Allow yourself room for grace. You’re in one of the most challenging professions, and self-compassion is necessary to persevere.
  • Always say “thank you” to colleagues and patients; those positive words have a contagious effect.
  • Find daily gratitude, especially on the toughest days.

Create the role you want

Like many professionals in other industries, we tend to believe we’re only successful if we do everything we think is expected of us. We might feel compelled to follow the lead of others in dentistry, in terms of the services they provide, the hours they work, or how they manage their workflows. It’s one thing to look to others for ideas and inspiration, but another to feel we need to model ourselves after them. I’ve learned that tuning out what others are doing and figuring out what works best for me is an essential step to achieving happiness and satisfaction.

A prime example is my lack of enthusiasm for performing root canals. I’d always felt obligated to offer them as part of my services, but now I refer these patients to an endodontist, and I focus on the services I do best and enjoy most. It’s much more rewarding to get out of bed in the morning knowing you’re heading to a job where every procedure, every task, has a purpose and feels right.

By investing in yourself and your practice, establishing your voice and purpose, and mapping out your vision, you can achieve success, balance, and peace of mind to last throughout your career. Taking these steps has worked for me, and I hope you’ll consider them and that they work for you, too. Here’s to falling in love with dentistry again!

Editor's note: This article appeared in the January 2022 print edition of Dental Economics.

Reference

1. Kulkarni S, Dagli N, Duraiswamy P, Desai H, Vyas H, Baroudi K. Stress and professional burnout among newly graduated dentists. J Int Soc Prev Community Dent. 2016;6(6):535-541. doi:10.4103/2231-0762.195509

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