Dentist Burnout Is Real

dentist burnout from stress

Workers in all industries experience burnout. For a variety of reasons, it just gets harder and harder to get excited about work.

Some industries experience more burnout than others, of course. Some jobs are particularly tedious or difficult or stressful. Unfortunately, dentistry is one that comes with a fair number of stressors.

Some Somber Numbers

Dentistry is a profession which is subject to a wide range of stressors which can lead to professional burnout. The dentist should be aware of these stressors and attempt to manage them in order to avoid becoming occupationally dissatisfied.

Economic factors including the cost of a dental education and the start up costs of a practice can seem overwhelming if they are not considered as an investment in the professional future of the practitioner. Debt reduction and income goals should be set and periodically re-evaluated to keep the costs of entering and conducting business in perspective.

The professional image or status of dentistry as a health care profession can cause stress to some practitioners. This is particularly true of dentists who feel compelled to practice in a less than desirable environment and those who feel professionally isolated.

– National Institutes of Health

Fair warning: the following numbers aren’t particularly uplifting. However, they help us know what we’re up against.

If you’re a dentist and you’re feeling some burnout, you should know that you’re not alone and, in fact, what you’re experiencing isn’t uncommon.

* The suicide rate of dentists is more than twice the rate of the general population and almost three times higher than that of other white-collar workers.

* Emotional illness ranks third in order of frequency of health problems amongst dentists, while in the general population it ranks tenth.

* Coronary disease and high blood pressure are over 25% more prevalent among dentists than in the general population.

* Dentists suffer psycho-neurotic disorders at a rate of 2 1/2 times greater than physicians.

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

* The dental profession in North America loses the numerical equivalent of one large dental school class each year.

Oral Health media group

So, why is this the case? Here are some reasons…

People Don’t Like Going to the Dentist

Let’s face it, most of our patients aren’t the happiest of customers. They have to endure our poking and prodding inside their mouths with sharp instruments.

Some of the time, there’s pain involved. We try to lessen the discomfort of our patients the best we can, but a lot of the time they have pain even before they come in (i.e., the reason they’re here in the first place), they have pain while they’re here and they have more pain after they leave.

There’s also a good bit of stress for our patients. They may not be feeling discomfort, but the fear of discomfort is overwhelming for some. We’ve all had these patients.

In these cases, it’s near impossible to avoid feeling stress. It’s just plain stressful to know that someone is fearful, uncomfortable or in pain. If we’re empathetic at all, we feel stress if our patient isn’t happy.

Full-Time Dentist, Part-Time Administrator

Dentists aren’t just dentists. More often than not, we’re also small business owners on top of full-time dental health caregivers.

That’s a whole new ballgame. Once you bridge over into your own practice, you take on a whole host of other jobs. And it’s all the extra tasks, on top of the stress of owning our own business, that can lead to burnout.

Everyday I wore the hats of CEO, business manager, negotiator, therapist, politician, and most importantly, “Dentist Extraordinaire.” Things went well at first until I started having difficulty sleeping and feeling anxious most of the time. I was always worrying about earning enough to pay the multitude of bills that stacked up each month.

I began to feel more and more stress and was unable to relax. I decided to work evenings and Saturdays to earn more and feel more in control of my finances. I hired consultants who encouraged me to make changes and I added more chairs, hired more staff and increased my advertising.

In retrospect, I barely noticed that while I was “improving” my practice, I had became distant from my family, pushed my staff harder and harder and had stopped going out. My wish was to do well and keep things moving forward, but it seemed everyone around me became more and more unhappy with me.

– Susan R. Cushing, D.M.D., ADA News

Dentistry More Competitive Than It Used To Be

Not only that, but the industry at large is more competitive than ever. Dentists are experiencing pressure from other practitioners, insurers and even our own patients.

There are more dentists than there used to be. There are more dental schools and more dentists graduating from these schools every year.

Meanwhile, Americans aren’t going to the dentist as much as they used to, which means competition for patients is higher than it used to be.

On top of that, healthcare is falling under the influence of consumerism. Patients, like customers, are demanding more for less.

Then there’s the insurers and the pressure they’re putting on dentists to make their practices more efficient and be more accountable for every aspect of their practice.

All in all, the dental industry is in a state of transition that is making it harder for dentists to create, sustain and grow practices.

Burnout Is Real

Unfortunately, dentistry is a profession with a lot of stressors. Especially today with increased competition in the industry.

Burnout is real. It can make it hard to look forward to work, go into the office day after day or take the same level of satisfaction from work that we did in the beginning.


By Quinn Dufurrena, DDS