Burnt out to thriving – the importance of preventative approaches to wellbeing in dentistry

‘The rewards are tremendous’: Mahrukh Khwaja looks at the importance of engaging dental professionals to take a preventative approach to their wellbeing, and how dental organisations can support mental health in dentistry. 

With the rising inequalities in mental health in the UK, I was struck this week by a document released from the Mental Health Policy Group (MHPG).

This group is a collection of mental health organisations, including the Mental Health Foundation, Royal College of Psychiatrists and Mind

Their document ‘Manifesto for a new Prime Minster 2022’ spotlights routes the government can take to improve mental health (plus saving millions of GDP in the process!) through policy influencing activities at the national level.

Five key ways MHPG highlight include focusing on prevention, reforming the Mental Health Act, expanding services, cross government action and addressing the shortfall in mental health social care.

Mental health manifesto for Liz Truss

As an educator in evidence-based well-being interventions, the prevention message really matters to me. In addition, it has so many important impacts in not only reducing poor mental health outcomes in the profession, but also helping us flourish, feel happier, and more engaged at work.

Chief amongst the preventative actions, MHPG spotlight:

  • Workplace interventions and workplace psychological support
  • Actions to change workplace cultures to promote and protect mental health
  • Suicide prevention interventions
  • Evidence-based parenting programmes
  • Anti-bullying programmes.

Mental health manifesto for the dental profession

This got me musing on the relevance of prevention for dental professionals.

The benefits of prevention in dentistry are massive. From high retention of staff and reduced time off, to increased productivity and profitability – and positive work cultures.

With poor mental health statistics dominating currently, it couldn’t be a more crucial time to double down on prevention. In dentistry, prevention may look like:

  • Adopting a team wellbeing lead
  • Annual training for dental teams on resilience and wellbeing
  • Mental health first aid
  • Protected time for training
  • Downtime during the workday for rest and recovery
  • Dental organisations putting emphasis on having wellbeing on the agenda
  • Dental conferences including wellbeing
  • Undergraduate and postgraduate curriculums including clinician wellbeing
  • Wellbeing programmes
  • Suicide prevention programmes
  • Bodies rallying for changes in the contract that rewards preventative approaches in dentistry, rather than higher targets
  • Research to examine evidenced based interventions.

Engaging dental teams

As a positive psychologist and dentist, I’m working hard in this sphere to engage dental organisations and dental teams in taking preventative action when it comes to resilience and wellbeing.

Over the last two years, I have hosted three four-week wellbeing programmes with Acteon. They explored how dental professionals can integrate mindfulness and self-compassion, and develop optimism, grit, and a growth mindset. The programmes also explored how to use these strengths when with patients, peers and at home.

I also had the pleasure to create two self-intervention products for dental professionals: the Mind Flossing Toolkit and my upcoming book, Resilience and Well-being for Dental Professionals, due to be released by Wiley-Blackwell shortly.

The former, a deck of wellbeing cards, has shown positive impacts to mental health. Many dental professionals have stated that their mental health improved after using the toolkit.

A new approach

Examining the literature on the causes of the mental health crisis in dentistry, there are multiple reasons for the current status quo.

These include organisational factors, high regulatory stress factors, clinical factors and individual factors.

From this viewpoint, it is clear to see that the poor mental health statistics are not solely the responsibility of dental associates.

We need a multifactorial approach if we want to see the mental health statistics swing the other way, with dental professionals improving their quality of life rather than suffering.

This will take a fiercely proactive stance from principals, dental organisations, governing bodies, universities, postgraduate education, and regulatory bodies.

Improvements to the positive health of dental professionals will take a big effort and commitment. However, the rewards are tremendous, for individuals, teams, interpersonal relationships and, of course, our patients.

The question I urge all of us to ponder is: how can I take preventative action and be proactive in designing the future of wellbeing in dentistry?

Mahrukh Khwaja can be found on Instagram @mindninja.wellbeing or visit www.mind-ninja.co.uk.

Contact [email protected] for references.

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