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Dentists are Humans, Too

By Jill Feilmeier on April 27, 2022 in Healthy Living

Mental Health, Dentist

As a society, we may place medical professionals, including dentists, on a pedestal and assume that they do not experience stress or illness. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in five adults in America experiences a mental illness, which includes our dental health professionals. A 2021 report from the American Dental Association revealed that 16% of dentists experience anxiety and 13% experience depression. Dentistry is a helping profession, but sometimes it is hard to ask for help. That is why the more we talk about mental health, the more we can reduce the stigma associated with the treatment of various mental health concerns.

Mental health impacts everyone, and dentists are no exception. Dentists have high expectations from their patients, staff, community, and families – and from themselves. Along with the pressures of the profession, the global pandemic created another layer of anxiety and stress for dentists, their patients, and their staff. Dentists need to know that resources are available to assist them and provide support. 

IN GRADUATE SCHOOL: As dentists complete their education, they are often faced with the transition of moving to a new location to work in a fast-paced practice, managing student loan debt, and learning the processes of insurance, business management, and community engagement. The University of Iowa College of Dentistry and Dental Clinics has invested in several counseling and therapy resources such as peer-to-peer counseling, support groups, bystander intervention, and “The Green Bandana Project” for dental students and staff. The Green Bandana Project is a student-led program designed to spread awareness of resources for those with a mental illness or struggling with a mental health crisis. Students and staff who carry a green bandana are trained in suicide prevention and awareness and informed of relevant resources. 

IN PRACTICE: One concern expressed by dentists in seeking treatment for mental health or substance use disorders is that their license to practice could be affected. The Iowa Dental Board provides confidential resources, tools, and support for healthcare professionals to succeed and retain licensure when facing mental health diagnoses, substance use disorders, or other mental or physical impairments that may impact the dentist’s ability to practice safely through the Impaired Practitioner Program (IPP).

IN THE WORKPLACE: Dentists operating practices may want to identify their workplace as a safe space for their staff and patients to talk about mental health. Here are some resources and tools available for dentists supported by Delta Dental of Iowa:

  • Make It OK is a national campaign designed to reduce the stigma of mental illnesses and provides resources for what to say and how to create an environment where everyone feels supported and understood. In Iowa, dentists can register their practice as a Make It OK workplace and receive training and consultations for prevention and awareness.
  • Hope For The Day (HFTD) is a nonprofit movement empowering the conversation on proactive suicide prevention and mental health education. HFTD has a Proactive Workplace program that provides tailored training to start the conversation about mental health and suicide in any situation.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Their website is filled with education and prevention resources and oversees the national call center. There are a variety of ways to utilize these resources:
    • Call 1-800-273-8225 – this line is available 24/7/365 and staffed with suicide prevention specialists.
    • Beginning July 16, 2022, a national emergency 3-digit code 988 (similar to 911) will route individuals to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
    • Visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website to review the available resources.

It’s essential to talk about our mental health and find help when needed. It’s important to increase our education and awareness about mental health and suicide prevention so we can all help others and reduce stigma. Dentists are humans, too, and deserve the support necessary to value and maintain their health and wellness. 

If you are a dentist who needs to take a leave from your practice for any reason, please contact Delta Dental of Iowa. We are committed to working with you. Reach out to our Professional Relations team at 1-800-544-0718 or email us at [email protected].