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Stress Management Techniques For Dental Hygienists

Jul 05, 2016

Sharon Boyd, RDH, BS

Stress can sometimes be unavoidable, especially when you're dealing with individual patient factors, ergonomic demands and even personal conflicts within your clinical team. Fortunately, the way you deal with it in the office will improve how you feel out of the office. Managing your stress can keep emotional and physical factors in check so that you can keep work-related tension to a minimum. Dental hygienists can use the following stress management techniques to manage physical and psychological stressors to find the right balance they need to be successful in their jobs.

Physical Pain and Stress

It's easy to wear yourself out physically to the point where you are no longer able to practice effectively. Thus, stress management techniques for physical pain should be top-of-mind for dental hygienist's looking to reduce stress.

Your non-dominant shoulder, for example, may be especially prone to pain caused by repetitive movement day after day. A great physical stress management technique is to practice shoulder stretches between seeing patients to release muscle tension and prevent occupational injury. Carpal tunnel syndrome is another physical concern that requires your attention. Follow appropriate preventive and therapeutic measures to keep your wrists working comfortably.

Proper ergonomic habits are also helpful when it comes to preventing long-term physical discomfort. The older you get, the harder (or less comfortable) it may become to work as many clinical hours as you did fresh out of hygiene school. It is just one of the reasons why so many seasoned dental hygienists invest in their own equipment, be it instruments, a particular type of stool or a pair of loupes so that you're using always setting yourself up for a comfortable working day.

Psychological Stress in the Office

A 2015 survey conducted by RDH eVillage and published in Dentistry IQ found that 67 percent of dental hygienists experienced stress that they believed was caused by their work schedule or supervisor. One of the primary reasons was due to the limited amount of time allotted to accomplish their professional duties for each patient.

Adjusting your schedule can have a tremendous effect as a stress management technique. Whether you book your own appointments or you work with a scheduling coordinator, ensure that you are given the proper amount of time to perform the necessary tasks. With adequate block scheduling, you can complete your patient appointment without the additional stress of what the clock says, while still having time to turn around the room and write up a chart, and thereby help reduce stress and keep your blood pressure down.

Techniques to Find Your Balance

Apart from discussing your time restraints with your supervisor, finding someone to confide in, practicing spiritual reflection, keeping a work diary and engaging in regular exercise are all ways to help release the tension that builds up due to professional responsibilities.

RDH Magazine states that "the best advice overall is to strive to live a balanced life in every sense of the word — physically, mentally, spiritually and financially. Far too many hygienists have sacrificed their health for the sake of the practice or patients, without facing the fact that their bodies will eventually break."

Without stress management techniques, cortisol and adrenaline levels may rise, which can impact multiple systems throughout the body. A mind-body approach and lifestyle changes, DDH suggests, can significantly improve your ability to manage such factors and prevent burnout. Yoga or tai chi classes can train you to calm your body, mind and emotions through focused breathing and relaxation exercises, and they are appropriate for any fitness level.

If your stress gets out of control, your mental and physical health may wear down to the point of dental hygienist burnout. It's important to take a breath, take stock of where you are and manage stress in a way that works for you.


  • Implement stress management techniques to avoid emotional and physical strain or injury.
  • Techniques like keeping a work diary and exercising can help you reduce stress.
  • Establish a healthy work-life balance so you don't experience burnout.

Why It's Valuable

If stress goes unchecked, cortisol and adrenaline levels may rise, which can impact your body both physically and mentally. Finding the best way for you to prevent or address stressors will help ensure you have a long, healthy and happy career.

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