The lonely life of a dentist

As positive as I aim to be on this website, it’s also important to recognise the challenges that we might face as dentists. If you have read any previous articles, you will know that I believe that we are all extremely lucky to be a part of this profession. We all have the opportunity to earn a fair income and build a satisfying, meaningful career. However, none of us are going to feel like that all of the time.

Being a dentist can feel lonely. Sat in your surgery, with the same four walls to stare at every day, it’s easy to feel isolated. In the middle of a ‘crisis’, this will only add to the stress.

A fractured file. A failed extraction. A written complaint. These things will happen to all of us. It’s part of the job. But when it happens to you, especially for the first time, it will feel like a disaster. In the middle of a crisis, it can be impossible to see the way out of it. You may feel alone, stuck, sat in the dark with no light at the end of the tunnel.

But what happens? Time rolls forward, you move on. Things blow over and, looking back with a bit of perspective, you can finally see that the ‘crisis’ wasn’t such a crisis after all. You can see that the crisis, whilst challenging, was something that you managed, you coped with, and you can learn from.

My shitty day

Apologies for the title of this bit but I really couldn’t think of a better way to describe the completely rubbish day that I went through earlier this year.

First thing in the morning and I received a written complaint sent by special delivery. The special delivery label unquestionably gave the patient’s complaint a certain urgency in my mind. Because I feel distracted by the complaint, nothing seems like it’s going well with patients. I can’t keep up and fall behind, adding to my cortisol levels. I’m tense, I’m tight and so my shoulder starts hurting.

After spending all day stressed and in pain, I go home to find that we have a damp problem in one of the bedrooms. I’m unfortunate enough to catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and I look a wreck. I go to bed early because there’s no way that I want anything more to do with today.

We are all going to have days like this, maybe even weeks or months. The good news is this. To make it through, all you have to do is be yourself.

Understanding your value

To be a dentist, you must be an intelligent, professional, caring person. You wouldn’t have got this far if you weren’t. So when you’re in a pickle, just be yourself. Be that highly skilled, emotionally intelligent professional. Take a deep breath and a step back. Give yourself the time you need to handle the situation you find yourself in and keep on going.

No matter how bad things might feel, time rolls on, things blow over and you will still be that amazingly valuable individual that you always were. Any blip, any catastrophe, any crisis is temporary. When the dust settles, you will still be you.

I know that’s much easier said than done, even if it’s absolutely true. That’s why I have been working with a practising psychologist and personal friend, Rosalyn Nelson, to create a series of articles to help you if you would like guidance dealing with stress, anxiety and that lonely feeling that we will all suffer with from time to time. We will also consider our relationships with patients, how they can be difficult and why.

Those articles are still in the pipe line. Before I finish off here, I wanted to leave you with one final thought. No matter how low or lonely you may feel, there are people out there who are experiencing the same things that you are. Any professional career will be tough. When life gets you down, try not to let current difficulties cause you to lose sight of the whole picture. Hold onto what brought you here. You are a highly skilled, empathetic professional who can deliver amazing care to your patients. Don’t forget your value.

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