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The REAL stress of being a dentist

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  Posted by: The Probe      10th January 2020

Charlotte Gentry presents her first experiences as a newly qualified dentist.

I did an article whilst I was an undergraduate about the stresses of a dental student. I never undermined the stress of working as a dentist and I spoke about the fact I was prepared for different real life stresses once I graduated. However, I don’t think you can ever be fully prepared…I spoke last month about finding the transition difficult and although I am feeling more comfortable sitting in my surgery with all those instruments in my hand, I am still struggling with taking work home with me.

The support at university was second to none and welfare tutors were available whenever you needed them or needed a chat. I am still relatively supported with by my educational supervisor who is there to talk to if need be, however, it has made me wonder, how much support is out there for dentists struggling with stress or their mental health?

The list of things that could stress out a dentist are endless – time, UDAs, litigation, keeping up to date, complaints and that emergency patient at 5pm on a Friday! But for me, the hardest thing is my compelling need to do everything perfectly. I stress if something doesn’t go to plan, if something doesn’t work or if I can’t make all a patient’s problems go away. I’m fully aware it’s unrealistic and this is completely unachievable – but I can’t help it. Not only being a dentist, but part of life is that not everything always goes the way you want.

An important, rooted characteristic of being a dentist is caring for others. However, I really think it’s possible to care too much and I think this is a weakness of mine. I know it’s not my fault the patient has a mouth full of caries, or plaque on every tooth causing their periodontitis, but perhaps I get too emotionally involved.
I think being sheltered in the realms of the dental hospital and being an undergraduate where there isn’t as much pressure and you have someone pretty much holding your hand, shields you from all of it. I hope to learn to shut off when I get home – I need to be able to enjoy my free time to keep my mind healthy!
For every dentist, there will be something personal to them that they struggle with. Despite this, I’m sure we are all united with the fear of litigation. It’s well talked about within the profession and I often wonder if the fear is proportional to how much it actually happens. Perhaps this fear is what feeds my need to want to do everything perfectly. It is certainly making all of us practice more defensive dentistry, and perhaps we limit ourselves and don’t grow and learn as much as we could, because we’re ‘scared’ to try something new.

I do think there needs to be more recognition of the daily stress we have to deal with and more support out there for dentists. There may be organisations out there that I am unaware of, however I really do believe we need to be more protected. After all, we are not superhuman, we aren’t immune to things becoming too much just because we are professionals and I really think this is something forgotten, not just by our regulatory bodies but patients too.


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