Every profession, medically-related or not, has its pros and cons, and dentistry is not excluded. People don’t talk about this too much, but just like any patient-oriented job, dentistry does have a number of challenges that can make this profession exceptionally stressful.
Most often, the only negative thing people hear about dentistry is dental school debt. However, that one thing, no matter how huge and important, manages to always overshadow a number of other challenges dentists have to overcome and deal with daily.
As you can tell from the very beginning, the answer to the title of this article is; yes, being a dentist can be a rather stressful job. But, it is also one of the most rewarding ones.
Nevertheless, in the following paragraphs, we’ll try to explain why dentistry is so stressful, and whether it is the right career path for you. So, without further ado, let’s get started!
What Does It Mean To Be a Dentist?
To be a dentist means being a doctor of either Dental Surgery, Dental Medicine, or owning both degrees. The degrees are received after an extensive, 4-year education at a dental school. Some graduates continue their education in a form of a post-doctorate or residency program for a more advanced take on dentistry, as in surgery for example.
For the graduates who do not want to continue the advanced dental training, they are still able to work in numerous dental disciplines as general dentists. For example, a graduate can open their own general practice, partake in a group practice, get employed as a dentist for the military, work in a public health facility or hospital care, etc. The bottom line is, dental school graduates have a lot of options for either future, advanced education, or immediate employment.
For more detailed information about dental school and career paths in dentistry, make sure to check out the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Student Dental Association (ASDA), and of course some of our other articles regarding the difficulties of attending a dental school and which dental school might save you from the student loan debt.
Also Read: How Many Years Does It Take To Be A Dentist?
What Makes Dentistry So Stressful?
One of the main stressors for dentists is time. Being a dentist requires incredible time management and many hours of work, which can be exhausting and incredibly stressful. The dentist needs to be focused and dedicated to every single patient the same, but as time goes by and one gets tired, it can be difficult to provide the best possible service.
That is why some dentists tend to work even during the weekends. You can never know whether a patient will have an emergency or a negative reaction to a procedure. This means that the dentist needs to be available to the patients at all times. Imagine having a severe toothache on a Sunday night. Who is going to help you, other than your dentist?
So, the dentist needs to be available to the patients both during business hours and outside the business hours. That can be truly stressful and can affect the personal life more than we imagine. So, even if the dentist has exceptional time management skills, the uncertainty of patient treatment can interrupt the schedule and call for additional working hours.
Effects on Physical and Mental Health
Studies have shown that dentistry is one of the most physically demanding medical disciplines. Even though we imagine our dentist sitting comfortably in their chair and fixing our teeth, the position in which the dentist works can be pretty tiring.
The dentist needs to be positioned so that they can do precise and tedious work while holding their hands still in the air for a longer period of time. During all of that, they require proper back support, leg positioning, and overall body stability so as to not make any sudden hand movements and cause possible damage to the patient. This all takes a toll on the back, shoulders, and arms.
That is why the majority of dentists experience chronic back pain, shoulder pain, knee issues from extensive sitting, etc. Some of the dentists even experience issues with being overweight or obese, while others experience issues with alcohol and smoking due to work-related stress.
Of course, being a dentist is not only physically demanding but mentally as well. Imagine dealing with patients who don’t like what you do to them. And you still need to maintain a happy face, show professionalism, and do your work properly.
That can result in a lot of emotional buildup, as well as the buildup of stress, depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts. Dentists know what the patients go through, but they still need to do their work. That is when empathy mixes with the guilt of inflicting pain and discomfort to a patient.
Not to mention that there are patients who are straight-up rude and disrespectful to dentists when they do their work. And don’t even get us started about cases where something goes wrong during a procedure. Dentists need to handle and take all of this, but remain professional and committed to doing their job the best they can.
Work-related stress is a major issue among dentists. One particular study, conducted in the UK with UK dentists, tackled this issue in detail. The research focused on sampling dentists and measuring their health symptoms, both mental and physical, and see how it affects their lives.
The results of the study are to a certain degree surprising and unexpected. Here’s what the study showed;
- At least 60% of general dental practitioners experience a great deal of stress due to schedule and time management issues.
- At least 64% of dentists experience work-related stress due to uncooperative patients.
- At least 64% of dentists experience constant time pressure.
- At least 60% of dentists experienced a medical emergency in the surgery.
- At least 52% of dentists deal with dissatisfied or nervous patients.
- At least 46% of dentists are seeing more patients than they can handle to increase income.
- At least 45% of dentists are working faster to see as many patients as they can.
It is also important to emphasize that the study showed male dentists working approximately 7 to 8 hours more compared to female dentists (meaning, male dentists work approximately 38.7 hours, while female dentists work 31.29 hours per week). We’re mentioning this because the study showed clear sex differences in work-related stress. For example, 58% of female dentists experience work-related headaches and feeling tired, while 59% of male dentists experience heartburn and indigestion issues in regards to work-related stress.
This study has presented the stressful nature of general practice dentistry in both female and male dentists. Work stressors contribute to the overall stress levels of dentists. Some of the main stressors regard the dentist-patient relationship, time and scheduling pressure, technical issues, job or income dissatisfaction, and working hours.
The study also supported the claim regarding the physical effects of the job on the dentists’ health. Over 60% of the dentists reported experiencing backache, heartburn issues, indigestion, feeling tense, headaches, sleeping issues and even feeling tired for no apparent reason.
As a result of work-related stress, less than 10% of the dentists smoke, while the majority of the study participating dentists drink alcohol. A small percentage of the dentists managed to exercise a few hours per week, while the majority of the dentists lacked exercise and physical activity. The study also indicated the connection between high stress levels and lack of exercise in these participating dentists.
Dental Practice Costs
Owning a dental practice is not cheap. Dentists often carry the debt of dental school into their jobs, and on top of that, they have to maintain a dental practice that is far from cost-friendly.
Of course, we’re not going to pretend like dentists don’t have a good income and a steady job, but the expenses of owning a dental practice can sometimes overwhelm even the best-earning dentists.
Patients aren’t aware that the money they pay for a whitening session or a crown doesn’t end up right in the dentist’s pocket. The dentists have to use up to 70% of what you pay to cover the expenses of the procedure. Also, the money needs to cover other obligatory expenses, like staff salaries, supplies, taxes, insurance coverage, maintenance of the practice, etc. Not to mention that dental machines can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
For the dentist to stay ‘in the game’ and meet the competition, they need to constantly buy new equipment and instruments, improve the practice and follow the trends in the dental medicine market. All of that can cost, a lot.
Exposure to Infectious Diseases
For a long time, dentists and health care workers have been concerned with the issue of possible exposure to numerous infectious diseases in the dental setting. In recent years, there have been increasing cases of dentists being exposed to HIV, syphilis, hepatitis, and as of lately, the coronavirus or COVID-19.
The reason for such a high risk of exposure to these diseases lies in the fact that the oral cavity is a natural habitat for bacteria and viruses. This makes the oral cavity the perfect climate for bacteria and virus development and contamination during dental procedures.
Therefore, dentists can be exposed to the following viruses and bacteria;
- Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) – transmission of HIV from patient to the dentist has been reported all over the world, mostly in cases of poor infection control, in developing countries, and in developed countries in cases of blood contact. However, the risk of HIV infection of dentists is low but still very present.
- Hepatitis B virus – the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) stated there were hundreds of cases where the dentist or an oral surgeon has been infected by the HBV virus coming from the patients. However, vaccination of healthcare workers like dentists and oral surgeons can reduce the risk of virus transmission.
- Mycobacterium tuberculosis – the possibility of M. tuberculosis transmission is low within the dental setting, but the risk is evidential and present, according to the CDC. The risk of bacteria transmission is the highest during tooth extraction and dental surgery.
- Coronavirus (COVID-19) – transmission of COVID-19 in a dental setting has become a serious issue in the past year. The potential for transmission is high, so dentists and patients need to follow the CDC COVID-19 protocols in a dental setting.
Just like any profession, dentistry has its advantages and disadvantages. Unfortunately, the disadvantages tend to be the primary concern of future dentists. However, we would like to end this article on a more positive note.
It is important to understand that being a dentist is an incredibly rewarding and respected profession. The ability to help people and bring a smile to their faces is priceless. Not to mention that dentistry is one of the most stable professions, with the lowest unemployment rate in the country.
Also, there are the benefits of owning a practice and being self-employed. Being your own boss may be tough sometimes, but can also bring a lot of work flexibility. Overall, we hope this article won’t discourage you from pursuing a career in dentistry. It is all a matter of one’s mindset and whether you’re satisfied with being a dentist or not.