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comfortable with managing staff, stress is inevitable for everyone in the office, sometimes extending to patients. Stress in the office can also result from some of the realities of dental practice. The dentist and dental hygienist are working in an emotionally charged part of the human body, the mouth, a very sensitive and intimate area for most people. Many dental patients are frightened and some are quite verbal about their anxieties, sometimes to the point of hostility toward the dentist and staff. Stress can develop if the dentist absorbs the patient’s emotional distress and if he / she has a high need for approval, the stress is exacerbated. Dealing with the demands of other types of difficult patients can also be a challenge to the dentist’s stress management skills: the ever complaining patient, the never satisfied patient, the patient who demands perfection, the patient who expects restorations to last forever, the patient who doesn’t want to pay for professional services, the patient who is always late or reschedules continuously, the drugseeking patient, the patient who brings unruly children along to the appointment. (I am confident this is only a partial list. Please email me with examples of your experiences.) And, of course, one of the major stresses of dental practice is the challenge of coping with the reality that you are engaged in a profession whose goal is to treat dental problems and improve dental health—an admirable

endeavor, but one that is accompanied by the knowledge that on occasion, you will be causing pain. Many people are unable to recognize stress as it is occurring, which can then result in stress build-ups to the point of the development of a number of serious problems. The negative effect of unresolved stress on emotional and mental wellbeing is well documented. Stress which is transformed into physical tension and pain is common among dental professionals. The physical requirements of dentistry often cause eyestrain and neck, back, leg, shoulder, arm, or hand pain. In a recent survey of 31 dentists who are participants in the GDA Dental Recovery Network, 11 identified work related physical pain as an antecedent to their initial use of drugs—that is, drugs that were not prescribed for them by a physician. This is drug abuse when the drug is illegal or self-prescribed and is something other than over-the-counter analgesics. Additionally, 21 of the 31 dentists identified dental career factors as contributing to the development of their chemical dependency. Other than physical pain, the factors surveyed were: stress, isolation, availability of drugs, feeling undervalued, dealing with patients beyond dental procedures, and managing staff. Fully 18 of the 21 named work related stress as contributing to their addictive disease. Clearly there are many factors that

can cause or contribute to the development of any disease, but we cannot afford to ignore the impact of stress on our physical and mental wellbeing. Learning to identify and resolve stress in our lives and ourselves is essential for sustaining overall good health.

Current Trends in the Profession In the February 2009 GDA Action, GDA Executive Director Martha Phillips identified a number of trends that will potentially affect the practices and lives of dental professionals in Georgia. In her article she discussed Board of Dentistry policies on dental examinations, charity health care, retail medical clinics, dental tourism, the questions around dentistry’s shift (or not) toward the medical model, and the ongoing Medicaid crisis in Georgia. All these trends are predictive of change in the profession, and change almost always brings an increase in stress. Add in the impact of the current troubled state of our economy and there is little doubt that dentists, dental hygienists, dental assistants, and administrative staff will encounter additional stress. Working together to weather the storms will help everyone in the profession.

STRESS Continued on page 22

Making healthier food choices is one way you can reduce the impact of stress on your body and help yourself feel better.

GDA ACTION DECEMBER 2009

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GDA Action  
GDA Action  

The Journal of the Georgia Dental Association

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