Why is it important for new dentists to pay attention to wellness?
According to the 2021 ADA Dentist Health and Well-Being Survey Report, younger dentists continue to be disproportionately affected by mental and emotional health concerns. This age group was less likely to feel in control of their work environment, reported a higher level of stress at work and scored higher on a depression scale.
The percentage of all dentists diagnosed with anxiety more than tripled in 2021 (16%) compared with 2003 (5%). Another 13% of responding dentists also reported experiencing depression.
The New Dentist News recently spoke to two new dentists who are passionate about wellness on why they believe prioritizing wellness makes them better dentists, improves productivity and helps them with their work-life balance.
Alex Barrera, D.D.S., a new dentist who practices at a community health center in Houston, believes the first step in initiating a wellness routine is setting regular time aside for rest and self-maintenance.
"This profession does not have to be something stressful or overwhelming," said Dr. Barrera, a yoga practitioner who is also an ADA Wellness Ambassador and ADA 10 Under 10 winner. "We can prevent things like burnout, back pain and struggles with mental health, but the only way to do that is to be honest with ourselves as to what our needs are."
Dr. Barrera added that he encourages new dentists to find something outside of dentistry that makes them happy and gives them a break. For him, that's yoga, but it could be any hobby or change in scenery that helps an individual relax.
"According to Brené Brown, creativity, play and rest are wholehearted behaviors that will promote a healthy mind and body," he said. "I truly believe in the importance of hobbies outside of things we 'need' to do. When we allow ourselves time to enjoy things, we can better show up for our patients, our families and ourselves."
Dr. Barrera, who is doing a series of videos for the ADA, added that self-care "shouldn't be something we resort to because we're so burnt out that we have no other option."
"It should be a regular part of our lives so that we can continue to show up as the best versions of ourselves," Dr. Barrera said.
Like Dr. Barrera, Shivani Kamodia Barto, D.D.S., is also a yoga practitioner. A new dentist currently living in Okinawa, Japan, where her husband is stationed, she is also a wellness coach who works with health care providers.
"What many people don't realize, dentists included, is that wellness is essential in creating healthy, productive teams," said Dr. Kamodia Barto, who offers a free wellness course on her website. "It's a shortcut to greater productivity, improved mental and physical well-being, and an overall higher quality of life. If we don't take time to take care of ourselves, it will cost us more time, money and energy down the road."
When asked how taking care of wellness benefits how a dentist practices, Dr. Kamodia Barto said it allows a person to show up as the best version for their selves, families, patients and communities.
"Wellness practices allow us to pour into others without sacrificing our mental or physical health," she said. "We can prevent physical injuries, chronic pain, mental fatigue and emotional strain."
One of the best things about getting started on a wellness journey is that small changes can make a big difference — sometimes almost immediately, she said.
This could be as simple as trying to develop healthier eating, sleeping or exercise habits.
But it could also be permanent changes to daily routines to help prevent burnout. Dr. Kamodia Barto also recommends dentists try:
• Integrating yoga, breathwork or meditation into their lives.
• Prioritizing frequent breaks from work, be it daily, weekly or quarterly.
• Taking time for true rest, leisure and fun.
• Regularly unplugging from technology.
• Checking in with a mental health professional.
"Wellness and stress management go hand in hand," Dr. Kamodia Barto said. "Managing chronic stress involves reducing stressors, learning to relieve stress more effectively and training our nervous system to respond to stress better."
The ADA offers a variety of health and well-being resources to assist dentists and their teams, including webinars that can be found by visiting ebusiness.ADA.org/education. To see all the ADA resources on wellness, visit ADA.org/wellness. In addition, the ADA Accelerator Series is a hub for wellness, leadership and work-life balance tools to accelerate your life, your way.
The ADA's Dental Team Wellness Advisory Committee members focus their efforts to support the health and well-being of dental professionals.
If you or someone you know is in immediate crisis, call or text 988 to be connected with support.