How to protect downtime in a busy practice

How to protect downtime in a busy practice

Dentistry is traditionally an intense and often isolating profession. For many dental teams, the pandemic has exacerbated this.

The challenges of the past two and a half years have, however, have had an unexpected positive effect as the mental health and wellbeing of those working within it have been thrust under the spotlight.

An interest in establishing a sustainable work/life balance for those working within dentistry is now widely discussed.

These topics are at the forefront of the minds of those on the frontline, their representative bodies, indemnifiers, regulators and other interested parties.

Mental health in dentistry is everybody’s business

In February 2022, a survey by Dental Protection revealed that 37% of young dentists in the UK were worried about the impact of Covid-19 on their wellbeing.

Additionally, 49% said the backlog in patient treatments caused by the pandemic was impacting on their mental wellbeing.

In the Dentistry Census, that undertook to explore Covid-19’s impact on the profession and its future implications for dentistry, 44% of respondents said their mental health has worsened ‘slightly’ due to the pandemic, whilst 22% revealed it had worsened ‘significantly’.

With 58% finding it hard to unwind after work, 62% felt their relationships – inside and outside of work – had suffered as a result of work-related stress.

Nasreen Najefi is an experienced NHS and private dentist who has worked across all types of general practice settings as well as practised maxillofacial surgery within a hospital setting.

She argues that breaks in working days are a ‘basic human need’.

Nasreen is eager to change the status quo by encouraging practice owners to actively take steps to protect their team’s downtime.

Not only will this help to mitigate the risks to the health of staff, it will also ensure patient safety. Preventing stress and exhaustion will, as a consequence, reduce the risk of unforced errors.

Greater need

She says: ‘We work for hours within four walls, rarely having contact with the “outside world”, despite treating a stream of patients. The pandemic has resulted in NHS dentistry getting a lot of negative media attention and this has impacted on patients’ attitudes towards the dental team – and especially the clinician.

‘Covid-19 meant isolating ourselves from our nearest and dearest. This lack of social contact has impacted on everyone’s mental health to some extent. The level of PPE we had to wear and the conditions in which we worked only exacerbated that level of isolation. It was difficult to communicate through hoods and FFP3 masks.’

The backlog of patients also contributed to this stress cycle, often affecting regular breaks. But this was just a part of it, Nasreen says.

‘Yes, there are now a lot of patients requesting appointments. However, many of these have not attended for two or three years, so the level of need is greater.

‘This has had a definite impact on breaks. Patients are requiring more treatment and, under a targeted system, this impacts on earning potential.’

At the forefront

Nasreen adds: ‘I have put stress on myself to work how I used to pre-pandemic. I am also seeing more and more younger clinicians who are suffering with stress and difficulties with mental wellbeing as well. This is in addition to physical aches and pains. And whilst it is now getting more attention, it has largely been an unspoken topic for many years.’

She believes the mental health and wellbeing of dental teams has to be at the forefront of any practice principal’s vision.

‘The team is the foundation of all practices. A positive team will lead to a more positive financial and HR position. We need to build up our colleagues and support them to be able to achieve their full potential.

‘We are all fighting our own battles and know our own individual limits. If we feel supported and listened to this will create more positive outcomes.’

Nasreen adds: ‘Regular breaks and refreshing our minds and bodies will allow us to give our full attention to each of our patients. When working under stress and exhaustion, we are more prone to making unforced errors.

‘Our communication may not be as clear as we would like. At the moment, reduced opportunities to take a break is limiting our ability to fulfil our basic human needs.’

How to protect downtime in a busy practice

  1. The practice diary should have 15-20 minutes in the morning and afternoon that are blocked out
  2. Communicate regularly with your team
  3. All team members should be encouraged to either take a walk to town during lunch, or sit with colleagues in the staff room away from the clinical areas
  4. Be grateful for those around you. We have a lovely work family and everyone is supportive of each other’s emotional needs
  5. Our practice manager has regular one-to-ones with each team member so they can voice any concerns and reach out if they need help
  6. Extend appointment times to allow clinicians to catch up with their notes so they are not under pressure
  7. Whilst we are yet to implement protected time, this will be our next step in creating a better working environment.

Follow on Instagram to keep up with all the latest dental news and trends.

Get the most out of your membership by subscribing to Dentistry CPD
  • Access 600+ hours of verified CPD courses
  • Includes all GDC recommended topics
  • Powerful CPD tracking tools included
Register for webinar
Add to calendar