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Tackling the Threat of Burnout Among Dental Hygienists

October 22, 2021
by Kate Sheppard


Dental practices nationwide are facing shortages in qualified staff, in large part because of the pandemic that’s resulted in more people having second thoughts about their careers. In fact, in a survey published in the Journal of Dental Hygiene, 8% of dental hygienists have left the industry since the onset of the pandemic. 

While there’s a natural ebb and flow to any industry, it seems that the dental sector has seen a huge wave of people quitting their jobs and burnout could be the cause. But what can be done to assist people in this field to manage their mental health and develop a culture of support and productivity?

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Recognizing the signs of burnout

Burnout is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a syndrome caused by chronic workplace stress which has not been successfully managed. 

Typically, people struggling with burnout will experience low energy or exhaustion, difficulty maintaining efficiency at work and lower mental capacity. From feeling emotionally drained to lower productivity, there are various signs of burnout to be mindful of, including:  

  • Increased absences
  • Higher number of errors when completing tasks
  • Negative mood or poor attitude
  • Lack of enthusiasm
  • Cynicism towards colleagues

Being aware of the signs of burnout, not only in yourself but in co-workers, can help with tackling the issue. But it’s only the first step. 

Find healthy ways to decompress

Difficult days at work are expected in any job, but it’s important to find ways to decompress. Bottling up your frustrations will only end up eating away at your motivation for the job, so finding ways to talk about your issues can go a long way to relieving the burden and stress. Journaling can also help in managing your stress and identifying potential problems before they get worse. 

But it’s also important that you maximize pockets of time throughout the day to recuperate, whether that’s getting some fresh air for five minutes on your lunch break or taking a walk around the block. It may seem like it won’t make any difference, but these moments throughout the day give you time to reset and unwind, even if it’s only briefly. 

Focus on time management

We’ve all experienced the overwhelm of a packed schedule and never-ending to-do lists, and this is a common complaint for overworked dental hygienists. While you can’t predict how many people are going to walk through the doors of your practice from week to week, you can work on organizing schedules more effectively to ensure that the burden doesn’t fall on any one person in particular. 

Find ways to manage appointments more efficiently to provide a healthier work environment for everyone in the team and limit your schedule to 35 hours per week. Beyond being physically exhausting, the demands of the profession can leave even the most upbeat hygienist drained of energy, so it’s important to draw a line under the number of hours you work for the betterment of your health. 

Recognize the need for progression

Staff often go into work each day feeling as though their time isn’t being well-spent or appreciated, which can lead to them becoming disengaged – something that contributes towards burnout over time.  

All dental hygienists require continued education for licensure renewal, and while it’s possible to do the bare minimum to achieve this, there’s an opportunity here to challenge yourself further. 

That may mean attending conferences. It’s a great way to meet other people in the industry and to learn in a more social environment, but it also reinforces the importance of your job to build your sense of purpose and fulfilment in your work. 

Or you might want to pursue further education in the form of an advanced degree to specialize and progress in your career. But there are other ways to continue learning and maintaining your sense of enthusiasm for dental hygiene without going back to school. From podcasts and blogs to TED talks and audiobooks, there are numerous ways to build learning into your week. 

Join the community

While everyone is at work to fulfil a role, it’s also important that people have fun in their job – we spend a lot of time in the workplace, so enjoying ourselves is critical. A complaint among dental hygienists is that the work can be isolating, with limited time to connect with others throughout the day due to the business of the job.

But nurturing relationships between colleagues and building a friendly team environment creates a happier, more supportive atmosphere for everyone. In addition to fostering friendships with the colleagues you work with day to day, it can also be beneficial to join dental hygiene associations or study groups to meet people in the industry, while also developing a sense of empowerment in your role.

Final thoughts

Work pressures, difficult and demanding patients, and long workdays can all contribute towards burnout among dental hygienists. But with the right approach, this sector can improve work conditions for everyone and create a more supportive environment for people in this role. 


About the Author

Kate Sheppard is a mum of two, who is passionate about sharing advice on topics related to healthcare and parenting.


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1 Comment » for Tackling the Threat of Burnout Among Dental Hygienists
  1. Sarah says:

    As a previously contented and passionate RDH, this article is deeply lacking in true context of what a dental hygienist faces in a day. First of all the rate of departure is much higher than 8% now. Tens of thousands of women in middle level service jobs such as this have left their industries during Covid. Second of all there is no mention of Covid fatigue. The workplace dramatically changed throughout Covid and the physical and emotional fatigue combined with your aforementioned lack of growth and lack of any upward trajectory in this field is what really caused the burnout. In almost twenty year my salary has gone from $40 to $42. I pay for all of my coursework and fees in addition to uniforms and costly loupes.
    The sooner I can leave this profession that I once loved the better.

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