Career satisfaction survey: Coping with stress

April 8, 2015
More than half of dental hygienists feel stressed by their jobs on a daily or weekly basis, and 67% believe a supervisor or workload is the cause of the stress, according to a survey conducted by RDH eVillage in January 2015.

More than half of dental hygienists feel stressed by their jobs on a daily or weekly basis, and 67% believe a supervisor or workload is the cause of the stress, according to a survey conducted by RDH eVillage in January 2015.

A silver lining is that the stress does not spill over into dental hygienists’ personal lives. Workplace stress has not impacted family relationships, for example, among 66% of the 1,122 dental hygienists who participated in the survey. In addition, 56% are “almost always” satisfied with their efforts to balance work life with their personal lives.


This article is the final article of a series of articles about career satisfaction in dental hygiene. If you missed reading the other articles, the links are below.


The survey asked dental hygienists how often they feel stressed by their occupation.

“The stress is affecting my mood,” a California hygienist noted. “I'm more crabby now and also am finding it harder to work with difficult patients. One awful one can ruin my whole day and evening. Working on people's teeth is just not easy! We deserve our good pay, because this job is very demanding!”

Relationships with patients, however, are not a leading cause of stress among dental hygienists. The boss and the workload were the most common answers regarding the cause of stress.

“Dental hygienists never get a break at work,” an Oklahoma hygienist said. “We're constantly going non-stop and are lucky to have time for a bathroom break or lunch. It's exhausting.”

A Texas hygienist added, “Too stressful, and, if you're not in clinical hygiene, then you just will not understand.”

Some hygienists wrote about additional causes of stress, including:

  • "For the past two years our office has employed a 'practice coach.' She comes to our office every three months and stays for two days. The first day she observes how we are doing, such as staying on time, relationship linking, maintaining quotas, etc. The second day we have a full-day meeting and talk about or get lectured on what we are doing right/wrong. This is a big part of my stress."
  • "Being paid on commission is one of the most stressful things for me."
  • "The problem is finding the right office with people who actually appreciate what you do and are willing to pay a decent amount for the hard work you put in, not to mention benefits and vacation days."
  • "I understand dentistry is a business. But my workload has increased and the pay has gone down. My body hurts. I am not offered insurance and cannot afford it, so I can't go to the physician to find out what is wrong. Very sad because I love my patients, and I wish I could have the time to take care of them properly."

A question about the effect of stress on physical health among dental hygienists indicated a split response. Forty-six percent said workplace stress has not caused “any physical illness, insomnia, depression, etc.” However, 42% said the career does have an effect, and 12% were uncertain.

Despite any aches or concerns about being a dental hygienist, most would appear to leave the stress at work.

An Alaska hygienist wrote, “I love my work, but not necessarily my job. When I started, it was a service occupation, dedicated to helping people with their oral health. Now it seems dentists come out of school with financial goals as first priority, and run their offices accordingly. As a hygienist in a state that has no independent practice for us, I feel trapped in an occupation that has my heart, but is necessarily practiced in a disconnected and unpalatable environment. I frequently ponder ethical issues.”

A list of options was presented to survey participants about how they cope with stress. By far, an attentive family member or friend is the preferred choice to releasing pent-up emotions caused by workplace stress.

A Washington state dental hygienist said, “If I didn't work out almost daily and have massages twice a month I couldn't be a hygienist. Counseling helps also. I work in three offices with three different computer systems, and it's stressful!”

The employer and colleagues are also factors in release stress. One question asked if hygienists have shared that they are stressed with either the employer or colleagues, and 63% indicated that they have.

Another question asked, “Do you feel like your employer cares about the stress you feel, or takes steps to prevent stress in your workday?” Only 25% said the employer is supportive; the remainder said the boss does not care (55%) or are uncertain (20%)