Give us a BREAK ! Stress in Dentistry

Give us a BREAK ! Stress in Dentistry

Opinion: Stress is a neglected health risk

(by Cary Cray-Webb)

I recently resigned from my post as a nurse at one the big-two corporates. I suddenly find myself as a full-time company director for the first time. Except I’m also a full-time student. And a full-time Mum. And I’m about to become a GlamMa for the first time. And now I’m writing this … no-wonder I’m stressed out.

I’ve had enough, and that is, frankly, why I’ve taken a break from nursing. That and the sheer fatigue that I felt when I arrived home every evening.

150bpm for much of the day

I will publicly admit a failure in my GDC compliance. I wore my Fitbit in surgery for several days before I finally decided to resign. The results were shocking. When working chair-side, my heart rate was 150bpm or more for much of the day, and not much less when working in decon (my resting heart rate is in the low 60s).

Comparing notes with younger, fitter colleagues at our 8-surgery practice showed similar results. I’ve no idea what heart-rate dentists sustain, but I can guess that they are similar or higher.

I’m no Cardiologist, but I am pretty confident that a heart rate of 2.5 times resting maintained almost constantly for up to 5 hours without break is not good, particularly when it’s done for 4 or 5 days a week.

RSI and Toilet Breaks

I have a close friend who is a dentist. I nursed for him when we both worked at ‘the other’ big-two corporate. In his early 40s, he has developed Carpel Tunnel Syndrome so badly that he physically can’t hold a pen or manipulate a guitar pick. Holding dental instruments is frequently painful. He has a brace that helps, but how do you decontaminate such a device between each patient?

My friend sees 30 or 40 patients a day. He is in his surgery for up to 5 hours at a time without a break. So is his nurse. He is highly qualified and very experienced. He does an extremely delicate and skilled job. It requires concentration, physical and mental dexterity, and is often highly stressful.

Yet when it comes to breaks, he and his nurse get the absolute legal minimum – assuming they don’t over-run.

How many times have you (as a dentist or nurse) had to ‘hold-on’ for a long treatment to finish before going to the toilet? And how many times have you been reprimanded by your practice manager for running late, usually (in my case) on the way back from a loo stop? As a profession, I think we would do very well in a ‘hold-it’ competition with the employees of everyone’s favourite e-commerce company.

Sadly, there is much truth to the joke that dentists own more Porsches and have a higher suicide rate than any other profession. Is it really any wonder?

Why it matters – the commercial reality

As well as a respect for human dignity, I think it’s time that corporate practice managers (and probably principal dentists) gave some thought to the commercial risks to which they are exposing their business.

Associate dentists are becoming harder and harder to recruit. For example, only this week, {my}dentist posted about their ‘Greek Ambassador’ who was flying to Athens as part of their recruitment campaign. A couple of weeks ago they were flying someone else to Romania.

Likewise, qualified nurses are becoming increasingly difficult to retain. I read an article this morning by a dentist (working in a corporate) who claimed that every nurse at his practice left as soon as he/she had completed their training. While many nurses move to another practice or to roles that use their qualifications and skills, many find easier, less stressful and better-paid work at supermarket checkout tills.

I believe practice managers need to think about the better rotation of nurses and providing cover for shorter shifts and more breaks. They should also look at maybe three appointment sessions with two breaks. Or else a proper, old-fashioned ‘tea break’ for their dentists and hygienists.

By reducing the physical and mental stress on staff they will reduce levels of illness and ‘industrial injury’ (such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome) and make their practice a happier and more enjoyable place to work.

Fitbit and the GDC

If the CQC and GDC want to reprimand me for wearing my Fitbit, please let them do so. However, I will also happily turn-over my data to them. They can then see for themselves the levels of stress that I was suffering at my last practice.

Of course, factors other than just nursing may have pushed up my heart-rate. But they will also see that I regularly exceeded my Fitbit daily target of 10,000 paces JUST in my chair-side working day. When working in decon, I could easily do 14,000 steps before heading for home in the evening.

I think that our professional bodies and the CQC owe it to all dental professionals, the businesses we work for (independents and corporates), and our patients, to run a study on workplace stress.

Simply allow a sample of staff to wear Fitbits (other brands of fitness trackers are available). Monitoring their data would provide a significant body of information to be collected. If a problem is found with workplace stress, then the justification for action to mitigate that problem is there for everyone to see.

On the other hand, if there is no evidence, I’ll just go to my GP and ask for some ‘Happy Pills’.

Cary Cray-Webb - registered dental nurse and director of Precision PR Ltd

Cary Cray-Webb – registered dental nurse and director of Precision PR Ltd

The Author

Cary Cray-Webb is a registered dental nurse and a director of Precision PR. She is also studying for the qualifications needed to become an NVQ Assessor in Dental Nursing. Cary has written several articles for Pearl Dental Software including;

Cary Cray-Webb