In the demanding world of dentistry, the pursuit of exceptional patient care often goes hand in hand with the well-being of the dental hygiene team. Yet, the rigors of the profession can sometimes take a toll, leading to burnout among even the most dedicated dental hygienists. Recognizing and addressing the signs of burnout is not only essential for the health and happiness of your team, but also crucial for maintaining a thriving practice.
In this blog post, we will explore proactive strategies that dentists can implement to foster a supportive work environment, promote mental and physical wellness, and ultimately, prevent dental hygiene burnout among their team members. From cultivating a culture of open communication to providing resources for self-care, these approaches are designed to not only bolster the resilience of the dental team but also enhance the quality of patient care. Join us on this journey towards a healthier, more fulfilling dental practice.
What Causes Dental Hygiene Burnout?
One study shows that 74% of dental hygienists who left the profession at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic voluntarily chose not to return to the profession.⁴ Studies have shown that dental hygienists report higher levels of stress, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), chronic pain, and burnout compared with other health care professionals.¹-³
The higher levels of stress, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), chronic pain, and burnout reported by dental hygienists compared to other healthcare professionals can be attributed to several factors:
Dental hygienists often work in positions that require them to maintain awkward and uncomfortable postures for extended periods. This can lead to musculoskeletal disorders and chronic pain. They perform repetitive tasks, such as cleaning teeth, which can lead to overuse injuries and repetitive strain injuries over time.
Dental hygienists often see a high volume of patients in a day, which can lead to time pressure and a demanding work environment. They may need to deal with anxious or difficult patients, which can be emotionally taxing over time.
They are also required to follow strict infection control protocols, which can be both physically and mentally demanding, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In some dental practices, hygienists may have limited autonomy in making clinical decisions, which can be frustrating and lead to dissatisfaction. The physical environment of some dental offices may not be conducive to ergonomic practices, leading to increased physical strain.
In busy practices, dental hygienists may not get sufficient breaks, leading to fatigue and increased stress.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought uncertainty to many professions, including dental hygiene. Concerns about job security and financial stability may have contributed to the high percentage of dental hygienists who chose not to return to the profession. The pandemic brought about additional stressors, including concerns about personal safety, family health, and economic stability, which could have influenced the decision of some dental hygienists to leave the profession.
It’s important to note that not all dental hygienists experience these issues to the same extent, as workplace conditions can vary widely.
So, what can we do to help our valuable members cope with this increased stress?
Provide Access to Mental Health Benefits/Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)
To prioritize work-life balance and accommodate personal needs, consider offering options for flexible work hours or schedules. Additionally, encourage regular breaks and provide time off for rest and rejuvenation. Avoid overloading hygienists with excessive patient appointments or tasks to prevent burnout. Promoting physical wellness is also crucial, as regular exercise has positive effects on mental health.
Normalize Mental Health Conversations
To foster a positive and supportive environment within the dental practice, it is crucial to cultivate a culture of open communication, trust, and respect. Encouraging team members to freely express their concerns and emotions, without any fear of judgment or reprisal, is vital. Furthermore, it is beneficial to create opportunities for open discussions about mental health and well-being during team meetings or one-on-one check-ins. Additionally, establishing a mentorship or peer support program within the practice can provide team members with the emotional support and advice they may need, allowing them to lean on each other. By implementing these strategies, a dental practice can prioritize the well-being and growth of its team members while creating a positive and inclusive work environment.
Support Personal and Professional Development
To support personal and professional development, it is valuable to provide a range of resources and opportunities. This can include offering information and training on stress management techniques, resilience-building, and mental health awareness. Additionally, providing chances for continuing education, workshops, and seminars that focus on self-care, stress reduction, and mental health can contribute to individuals’ growth and well-being. By offering these avenues for development, we can foster a nurturing environment that promotes personal and professional growth.
Address Workload Expectations And Show Appreciation
Ensure that workload and performance expectations are realistic and manageable, taking into consideration the well-being of the team. Equally as important, make sure to create a culture of appreciation within your practice that not only rewards your team for their efforts, but also provides positive reinforcement and encouragement.
As guardians of oral health, dentists play a pivotal role in shaping the well-being of their team members. By prioritizing the mental and physical health of dental professionals, practices not only cultivate a more positive work environment but also elevate the quality of patient care. From offering access to mental health resources to promoting open dialogue, the steps outlined in this post are powerful tools in the fight against burnout.
Remember, preventing dental hygiene burnout is not just an act of kindness; it’s a strategic investment in the longevity and success of your practice. By fostering a culture of support and well-being, you create a foundation upon which your team can thrive, providing the highest level of care for your valued patients.
Together, let us champion a workplace that nurtures the passion, dedication, and resilience of dental professionals, ensuring they continue to make a lasting impact on the smiles they serve. Here’s to a future of healthier, happier, and more fulfilled dental teams!
1. Harris ML, Sentner SM, Doucette HJ, Brillant MGS. Musculoskeletal disorders among dental hygienists in Canada. Can J Dent Hyg. 2020;54(2):61-67.
2. Saccucci M, Zumbo G, Mercuri P, et al. Musculoskeletal disorders related to dental hygienist profession. Int J Dent Hyg. 2022;20(3):571-579. doi:10.1111/idh.12596
3. Haslam SK, Wade A, Macdonald LK, Johnson J, Rock LD. Burnout syndrome in Nova Scotia dental hygienists during the COVID-19 pandemic: Maslach Burnout Inventory. Can J Dent Hyg. 2022;56(2):63-71.
4. Why the Great Resignation offers opportunity for young dentists. American Dental Association. June 8, 2022. Accessed August 15, 2023. https://www.ada.org/publications/ada-news/viewpoint/my-view/2022/june/my-view-why-the-great-resignation-offers-opportunity-for-young-dentists