April Theme: Stress Management

Managing Stress Amid The Real-Life Demands of Dentistry
Aim for eustress not distress

by Dr. Margaret Wehrenberg 


When the health researchers started naming and describing stress, they talked about eustress—the kind that builds strength—and distress—the kind of stress that can lead to burnout, that state of physical and mental exhaustion. Distressing stress is a killer. It damages heart health, leads to auto-immune disorders, and ultimately takes a toll on mental health, causing anxiety and depression.


Stress itself can be managed if you do what is necessary to keep your health, but here is where the real-life demands of dental practice cause a problem. You know you should take a lunch break for the nutrition as well as the mental downtime, but you genuinely want to help that emergency patient or you feel financial pressure, so you squeeze in a patient instead of taking a break. That means your staff is working too. From reception to assisting and doing the billing and scheduling, the office works to keep the patient flow going. And when anyone falls behind—because you never can be sure that everything will go smoothly—then the entire day feels even more pressured.


Take this seriously: stress accumulates. One day is no problem, but day after day you become subject to the health risks. Stress management is as important as good practice management. Here are the ways to keep unavoidable stress manageable:

1)    Manage stressors

2)    Manage time and environment

3)    Manage attitude

4)    Manage rest and relaxation


Simple interventions make a world of difference—just like regular dental hygiene will prevent big problems later.


Manage stressors 

  1. From the dentist to the receptionist, the hygienist and assistant to the billing office, know what your role is and what the patient role is: You do your part well, but remember you cannot do what the patient is responsible for.

  2. Keep boundaries on time: If your patients know they can be late and you still will fit them in, they may not be careful to be on time in the future.

  3. Keep good staff boundaries: Working in small offices can be delightful when everyone gets along, but hellish if there are inter-personal conflicts. It is hard not to chat about life outside of the office, but maintaining the discipline to speak respectfully and avoid gossip keeps the tone right. Everyone plays a role in maintaining that.

  4. Get some professional support: Working as the sole dentist in a practice, especially in a competitive marketplace, makes it hard to find and consult with peers. Try to meet some of those peers, and consider sharing consultation time that will support you in learning new skills as well as new practice management ideas. You may find someone you can trade with to cover your patient emergencies if you take a (probably put-off-too-long) vacation!


Manage time and environment

  1. Taking the time for regular meetings for everyone to participate in assures a structure in which issues can be handled as they arise so they don’t fester and don’t create chaos in the office.

  2. Because the practice financial demands are enormous, it is important that scheduling, insurance coding, and billing and collections are as efficient and correct as possible. Yet it is also necessary that all the staff is up to date with computer programs that manage time and money, so set aside time for training and feedback in ways that patient scheduling won’t be sacrificed or the staff communication is not sacrificed for patient scheduling.

Manage attitude

  1. Remind yourself that you are important, but not the only one responsible for the dental health of your patient. You can do good hygiene work, good exams, fine work on restorations and repairs, and make good care recommendations, but it is only the patient who does self-care in between appointments that can maintain or undo the work you did.

  2. Define your importance correctly. You can only give what you have to give. If you run yourself into the ground, you cannot keep giving.

  3. Keep tabs on perfectionism. Every day is a day to learn. The best attitude for perfection is knowing you have done what you are capable of this day. If you are getting better every day, that is perfect.

Manage rest and relaxation

  1. Relaxation at the end of the workday is vital: play with your children, get outside, go to the gym, meditate, play sports with friends, pursue a hobby—whatever works!

  2. The tendency to relax with alcohol is a temptation that you will want to monitor. While relaxing at first, drinking interferes with sleeping well, and when it is your primary method of relaxation, can become an addiction.

  3. When your mind rests, by default your brain ‘connects the dots’ of interpersonal relationships and problems you are trying to solve. So get some mental downtime every hour or two: let your mind drift for a bit. Sit quietly and look at water in a fountain or look out the window. That’s all. Your default network will take care of connecting without any effort.

  4. Rest in a more active way for a few minutes. Get outside for a breath of fresh air. Do yoga poses or stretch to release inevitable physical tension. Take a 4-minute workout to get the muscles loosened.

  5. Don’t skip a midday break for nutrition and rest. Every study on efficiency indicates taking regular breaks for rest and nutrition results in fewer mistakes and higher productivity. A long enough lunch break even means you can catch your schedule up and still get some time for the rest you need before launching into an afternoon schedule.

  6. Physical fitness is the single best factor to make you resilient to stress! Vigorous daily exercise prevents stress damage: it releases muscle tension, promotes cell cleansing and growth for a healthy brain.


You will quickly find that these four paths to stress management leave you with the eustress and prevent the distress of a busy, productive practice.

Dr. Margaret Wehrenberg is the author of The 10 Best-Ever Anxiety Management
and the soon-to-be-published You Can Handle It: 10 Steps to Stress
s. She is an international speaker and trainer, she blogs for Psychology Today
and she coaches professionals to handle anxiety. You can find Dr. Margaret on the
web at www.margaretwehrenberg.com.


Related Resources

Stress In Dentistry: It Could Kill You

Dental Careers & Stress

Stress in the dental profession (and why a horse could save your life)

With the Benefit of Hindsight, Would You Still Want to Become a Dentist?

It is not a daily increase, but a daily decrease. Hack away at the inessentials.
Bruce Lee



Just the FACTS ...

The #1 killer of dentists is stress-related cardiovascular disease.


The DWBF is a 501(c)3 charitable foundation created by the Missouri Dental Association.

  • Grey Facebook Icon
  • Grey Twitter Icon
  • Grey YouTube Icon

Missouri Dental Well Being Foundation

3340 American Ave | Jefferson City MO 65109


​© 2016 Missouri Dental Well Being Foundation