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Try these six ideas for helping your dental assistants through professional burnout.

6 ways to help dental assistants avoid burnout

Aug. 28, 2023
There's a lot of talk about burnout among dental assistants. But do you actually know the signs, how to correct them, and how to avoid burnout in the first place?

I believe burnout has taken over our profession in a big way. We’ve been working shorthanded for so long, and hiring hasn’t recovered enough for us to have fully staffed offices. Although I believe we will be fully staffed again someday, for now we’re working hard to keep our practices moving forward and, as a result, some of us are experiencing major burnout. 

How does burnout happen?

Burnout sneaks up on even the most dedicated team members—the hard workers who take pride in their work and go above and beyond to do whatever it takes to help, the team members who help everyone, and those who come in early and leave late. These team members feel responsible and take pride in what they do. Does this sound like you? Then you may need to be on the lookout for burnout. Here are some things to watch for. 

  • A decreased sense of accomplishment, motivation, or satisfaction in what you’re doing
  • A feeling of complete exhaustion, both physically and mentally
  • An increase in negative thoughts and behavior
  • An alone feeling, like you’re the only one who does it all, but you have to keep going
  • A feeling of being trapped, defeated, or helpless
  • A sense of self-doubt or failure
  • Trouble sleeping and restless nights 

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How to avoid dental assisting burnout

It’s important to keep your head above water and avoid any of this happening to you. It’s just as important to look for signs of burnout in your team members. Friends don’t let friends experience burnout! 

Go in early: I’m a big fan of going into the office early. Yeah, I know, that’s one of the signs of burnout. However, going in early keeps my day on track. Prepping for my day helps me feel organized and on top of things. I run the autoclave, get the ultrasonic ready, check on labs for the next few days, pull labs for that day, and get my first few trays ready (not opened, just put together). 

Take a break: A break is, or should be, a huge part of your day. Taking a breather can change your entire mood and rescue your day. If you have someone who can fill in for you so that you can grab just a few minutes to destress, go for it. Taking a lunch break is an absolute must. Some offices don’t take a lunch break, and I think that’s a huge mistake. Even though we have a designated hour in my office, I seldom take the hour because there’s always something I need to get caught up on—sterilization, lab work, cleaning. But this actually helps me destress because I get caught up. I then take the rest of the hour to grab a bite, take some deep breaths, take a walk, or just enjoy some sunshine. Carve time out for you during your day! 

Leave work at work: When you leave work for the day, leave it at the office. Don’t allow it to take over your home life. We have families, homes that need our attention, and a life beyond our practices. It’s important to keep work and home separate and give each one our full attention at the appropriate times. We love to say, “Don’t bring your problems to work,” and I believe the same should be said for home. Give that time to family and enjoy the time you have out of the office. 

Get plenty of rest: One of the biggest signs of burnout is insomnia. About 60% of those who suffer from burnout say the have trouble falling asleep. Sleep is essential to staying healthy mentally and physically. Sleep helps your body heal from the day. Without proper rest, your body can’t prepare you for the day. 

Get plenty to drink: No, not vodka or margaritas. Drink water! Dehydration is no joke and can damage your body. Don’t get so involved in work that you forget to hydrate. Dehydration can lead to increased fatigue and brain fog. Your body needs water, so don’t ignore this important step! 

You’re valued and you’re needed, not just at work but at home as well. You can’t take care of everyone until you take care of yourself. You’re the greatest asset you have, so take care of yourself mentally and physically by slowing down, taking some time for yourself, getting plenty of rest, and staying hydrated!