How to Combat Stress & Being Overwhelmed At Work

man stressed with hands on face

No matter who you are or where you live, if you’re a dental hygienist you’ve at some point been stressed at work. Being in the dental workplace is a constant, ever-moving machine. And when you’re running behind, it’s easy to feel flustered or even skip over some of the routine steps that we go through with our patients.

Why Do Hygienists Get Stressed at Work?

As a hygienist, it’s super important to stick to a schedule. Otherwise, you get too far behind and your patients are waiting on you or you don’t get to leave work on time at the end of the day.

Some of the most common reasons why hygienists get behind on their schedule are things like:

If you start running behind with one patient, it wrecks the entire rest of your morning or afternoon! Anytime your schedule gets thrown off at a dental workplace, it just starts a chain reaction for all of the patients that day.

How to Tell You’re Stressed at Work

Some of us hide our stress well, while others don’t. Here are just some of the things that happen to me when my schedule is running behind:

I tend to ask my hygiene patient the same question over and over. 

“Do you have any teeth that are bothering you?”
“What flavor polish would you like today?”
“Do you prefer a morning or afternoon appointment?”
“How often do you floss?”
“Have you had any changes in your medical history?”

Admit it. You’ve done it. You’ve asked the same question two, if not three, times to the same patient. When you’re in a rush, it’s really hard to remember what you have or haven’t said.

I mess up my X-rays. Either I forget to put the tube head next to their face, put the sensor in the mouth without the film, or position the sensor at the wrong tooth. Was I taking four bitewings or two? An FMX or a pano?!

And heaven forbid that you overlap your molar shot!

I forget what to hand the patient. Did I just step outside of the room to get them a cup of water? Was I going to hunt down a sample of sensitivity toothpaste? When you’re caught up in a routine and that routine gets thrown off, it can make you forget where you’re supposed to be in the normal flow of things.

I forget which dentist is seeing the patient or mix up my office protocols. A lot of hygienists work in more than one dental workplace. That means keeping up with different office policies, schedules, and remembering which dentist likes things certain ways (because they’re all unique.)

Take a Deep Breath

When we’re waiting on other people—like the dentist to come in and do an exam—there’s nothing we can do to speed up the process of getting our patients in and out on time. But you can always control yourself and what you’re doing. The key is to work smarter, not harder. If your next patient is there and you’re still waiting on the dentist to step in for an exam, and depending on how your office is set up, try to pop out and take the other patients’ X-rays while they’re waiting. Or seat them in an overflow room and start your periodontal probing. Maybe you’ve got a dental workplace BFF—like another hygienist or an assistant—who can help you out.

Take several deep breaths and focus on your mindfulness. You can only control what’s in front of you right at that moment.

Still Stressed? Talk to Your Boss

Something as simple as doing a time study or rearranging your hygiene schedule can prevent you from getting stressed at work. When everyone in a dental workplace is on the same page, it can prevent stress and burnout across the board. Work with your teammates to help everyone stay on schedule or provide support when things pop up throughout the day. Especially if it’s a recurring problem.