It was 1992, and I was the summer dental assistant at a practice in middle America – a pretty good gig for a wannabe dentist.
My idol, Dr Smith, gave me quite an inside look at the world of dentistry. She said something I will never forget when I asked her how she deals with so many negative situations that seems to come and go: ‘A few times I have just gone into the bathroom, shut the door, and cried.’
Astonished, I just stared at her. I didn’t quite understand her response at the time, but as life went on, and I became the dentist in my own practice, her response became clearer – and I was thankful for her blunt honestly with me. She just cried.
There is so much responsibility riding on our shoulders as dentists
I am more of a yeller than a crier, although I definitely do not hide the fact that I have followed her lead a time or two, closed my office door, and let the tears of anger, frustration and stupidity fall.
There is so much responsibility riding on our shoulders as dentists. Most days it’s bearable and even desirable; other days, the load seems too heavy and beyond the abilities of one person.
It’s the inconsistency that makes dentistry so difficult. One day the schedule is perfect. Everyone shows up. Everyone remembers to take pre-medication. Everyone cares about getting his or her treatment completed. Every crown fits. Everyone wants to pay for their treatment eagerly.
And then – like Dr Jekyl turns into Mr Hyde – the world spins differently. Each patient has a new illness and medication list to input. Every patient has an additional problem. Every patient arrives late and wants to be out early and each filling seems bigger than anticipated.
Going with the flow
After many years in this dental world, I certainly have strategies to help maintain a good flow and a consistent pace, but there are still those days that seem beyond normal – the days you have to believe the full moon’s gravitational pull or a cosmic shift occurred because there is no other explanation for the abnormality in your schedule.
These are the days that led me to seek out a better way to control the inconsistent stress levels that started to take over my physical health. A nagging shoulder soreness finally led me to experience yoga for the first time – with resistance. Ergonomic changes and massage therapy helped the situation, but it did not solve the problem.
Yoga was fast paced and a pretty good workout. To my surprise, I liked it, and I loved the last part – lying flat on my back with a short, body scan relaxation technique that made me feel incredibly calm and secure. I realised I had not been this calm in a long time. I realised I was more stressed than I thought.
Within a month of regular yoga classes, my shoulder pain melted away. My mind opened up to a new level of awareness, and I knew I would always have some kind of yoga routine in my life.
For dentists, yoga is a perfect antithesis to the contorted postures we encounter each day
For dentists, yoga is a perfect antithesis to the contorted postures we encounter each day and to the mounds of up and down mental stress we experience. It’s the antidote to the ‘on’ lifestyle we lead in our daily practices. It’s a place to shut off for a while and focus our minds on being rather than doing.
I should mention that yoga isn’t just yoga. There are many styles of yoga, such as iyengar, hatha, slow flow vinyasa… the list goes on. Experimenting with different kinds is necessary to find the right fit. I know several of my friends that said they tried it once and didn’t like it. I find this is often because they did not find a good instructor or did not find the right style. Learn from a yogi – someone who really knows the postures and the practice.
Now, almost 10 years after learning several yoga styles, I cannot imagine my dental life without this key practice management tool in my arsenal. I watch for vital physical indicators in my health as much as I watch for key performance indicators in my practice.
As dentists, we only have one body, and if it goes down, we are in trouble. I lecture about a technique called ‘mindfulness-based stress reduction’, a way of life I studied at Duke University’s integrative medicine programme. With my early yoga introduction, I easily soaked up these additional techniques to help other health professionals (and myself) learn how to last longer and better survive the up and down journeys we experience as dentists and dental professionals.
In dental school, we learn how to do more, study more, give more, and be more
In dental school, we learn how to do more, study more, give more, and be more. It can be exhausting. If we never learn how to take care of our mental and physical needs as well, the practice of dentistry can be physically painful and mentally unsatisfying.
Learning how to manage our stress is the single most important thing we can do for ourselves. It helps us at home with our families, and it helps us be better practitioners for our patients. It helps us enjoy the days more, and it helps us remain in practice longer.
All of these things lead to a more peaceful and profitable way to end our days. If you haven’t found a way to consistently manage the stress in your life, consider a mind slowing activity like I did.
Dr Lisa Knowles is a practising dentist in Michigan, USA. She graduated from Alma College as a communication major and then went on to the University of Michigan School of Dentistry to complete her doctorate of dental surgery degree. She lectures internationally on topics ranging from mindfulness-based stress reduction to eco-friendly dentistry practices – all with a common core theme of helping dental professionals have more peace and profitability in their practice of dentistry. Follow her blog and Thirsty Thursday tips at Beyond32teeth.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.