COVID-19: Major stress factor among dental staff after reopening
LEIPZIG, Germany: Dentists have resumed the provision of patient care, but are experiencing great anxiety arising from extensive changes to the workflow and fear of contracting SARS-CoV-2 in the practice. Besides work-related stress, some dental professionals are burdened with personal stress related to family, finances and the current state of affairs. To help dental staff cope with the anxiety brought about by continually updated safety and cleaning protocols and changes in workplace policies, a number of dental organisations and health authorities have recently offered their guidance on lightening the load of COVID-19 and associated stress factors in the dental office.
As reported by Dental Tribune International, COVID-19 has exerted some devastating psychological effects on dental professionals. Many dentists are finding it wearisome and demanding to work in an environment with ever-changing measures to avoid infection and to cope with personal stress while managing the fear of contracting the virus.
In his paper on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on dentistry, Dr J. William Claytor Jr, associate director of the North Carolina Caring Dental Professionals, said that dentists are currently dealing with an unprecedented number of concerns, including unemployment, student loan debts, limited income from emergencies, job losses in other industries, a declining and unstable stock market, increased drug use, addictions, family tensions and halted public education, and stress and burn-out.
To offer assurance to dental staff, the California Dental Association (CDA) recommends advising employees of the plans in place to ensure safety in the workplace. Staff should be updated on new infection control procedures and changes related to practice operation and appointment scheduling. After any policies and protocols related to dental practice are reviewed, resulting updates should also be communicated to staff, and they should receive the latest COVID-19-related information that could affect their jobs. CDA recommends retrieving information from the websites of trusted regulatory agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.
Keeping employees in the loop communicates that the practice is aware of ongoing changes to recommendations and continues to update its practices accordingly in order to minimise the risk of exposure of both patients and staff.
Making staff aware of employee benefits
If any employee assistance programmes are in place, be it workplace counselling sessions or nationwide legislation, such as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act in the US, CDA advises employers to remind staff about the availability of such benefits. If a staff member has to be laid off or furloughed, he or she should be notified of existing unemployment claims. More information about employment termination in the current environment, employees’ right to unemployment benefits and paid and unpaid leave in the US can be found here.
Protecting mental health of staff
Dental staff are currently extremely susceptible to deteriorating mental health, which is why the well-being of staff should be regarded with the utmost gravity. CDA recommends encouraging employees to share their concerns and, in listening to these, adopting an attitude that is empathic and receptive. This will not only demonstrate engagement, but also help resolve the issue at hand more promptly, CDA noted. Employees who are unwilling or afraid to share their concerns should be offered a channel to express their concerns anonymously.
Other measures to show support and ease tension among employees include relaxing certain pre-pandemic practices and policies, such as reducing the number of employees in the office by implementing alternative workweeks, staggered shifts or telecommuting weeks. CDA believes that open dialogue between dentists and staff will facilitate the establishment of clear responsibilities and expectations and boost employee morale.
Just last month, the British Dental Association published a webinar that addressed stress and mental well-being among dentists. The webinar helps recognise the signs of stress among staff, provides advice on how to prevent it and teaches how to support those whose mental health has been undermined.
Editorial note: Additional guidance for reopening, practice management and fostering employees’ mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic has been published by the American Dental Association and can be found here. Strategies for coping with COVID-19-related stress have been published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and can be accessed here.