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Is Dental Burnout a Public Health Issue?

February 2, 2016

Filed under: Happiness,Leadership — Tags: , — Barry @ 12:12 PM





I haven’t blogged in a while. No, I am not getting lazy. I have been busy. I am writing a new book on leadership and communication for dentists.

I know…it’s a bland subject. I know…what can I tell dentists about leadership and communication that they haven’t heard before. I see their eyes light up when the speakers show them beautiful photographs of smiles.

I know where they spend their time and what they focus on.

But not me…for forty years I have focused on the human side of dentistry…the behavioral component.

And I have learned a lot, more everyday as strange as that seems. So I have decided to write a book about leadership and communication because those two terms seem to capture the entirety of the human side of dentistry is every way.

I truly believe what leadership expert John Maxwell says: “Everything rises and falls with leadership.”

If you want to be effective…study leadership.

If anyone has a better way to describe this highly complex subject, I am open to suggestions.

While doing my research, and trying to keep leadership and communication on the positive side of life because one of my core beliefs is that optimistic leaders are more effective and more successful; I found my self writing about  actual problems in dentistry.

The individual, the organizational and the community problems…the darker side of dentistry.


Now, I know that’s an old story. We have all heard the news that dentists commit suicide more than any other group. I never got into that conversation…but I do know some victims. I know a lot more sufferers of depression and burnout.

Whenever we hear about a professional suicide we march out that old cliche’ about suicides and dentist…then we go back to work – as a friend of mine once said, “we are either crying or lying.”

One thing we all know, workplace stress is real and professional burnout is very common.

But we’re doctors, we are expected to have everything under control, right? Maybe that is why professionals have swept this problem under the rug for so long.

For me, the giant basket of information for the cure for burnout was to learn how to connect with people better and learn how to become a better leader. It worked for me.

For others this has become a big issue. And it’s finally beginning to trend.

A friend tipped me off about a physician in Oregon, Pamela Wibles, who has become an evangelist for physician suicide and burnout. She has written a book, Physician Suicide Letters Answered. The book describes the problem in the medical community through her own personal story.

After publishing an article about herself, she received hundreds of letters from physicians who have shared similar feelings.

I contacted her and told her that we have similar issues in dentistry.  Her website is www.idealmedicalcare.org/blog/. In her book and on her website she discusses some of the solution to this growing problem.

Of course this can be viewed as a blessing and a curse. Professional education is in dire need of reform…in every way. This problem has many causes….from professional school bullying and hazing to the extreme pressures young professionals go through in private practice.

The public needs to become more aware because of the implications of this problem. Mistakes in diagnosis and treatment will cost the public in the long run. Lawsuits will go up.

This is the tip of the iceberg. When this problem is more deeply explored we will find many more implications.

In the meantime if you have been effected by dental suicide, and burnout…leave some comments below.






  1. Now you’re digging deeper than ever — exposing the problem and its darkest facets. Many people has find themselves in one or another of those extremities. Thank you for bringing that to light.
    Love the leadership and communication highlights.

    Comment by Fred — February 2, 2016 @ 12:58 PM

  2. Fred…it’s interesting because once you pick up this thread there seems to be an unending supply of issues and implications. We never talk about this and yet as I am writing my new book I see how this issue is possibly the most important in all of health care.

    Comment by Barry — February 2, 2016 @ 1:34 PM

  3. That’s right. Haven’t heard much in regards to what you wrote out there. Some people dislike it. But I’m sure there’s a growing number of professionals out there in need to hear about their issues… that there’s somebody to hear them…to talk to them…longing to hear that that there’s salvation for them.

    Comment by Fred — February 3, 2016 @ 1:31 PM

  4. Fred–responses have been here and on Facebook. It’s interesting to note that so many issues are masquerading as other issues. It takes a lot of courage to openl;y discuss such sensitive areas.

    Comment by Barry — February 3, 2016 @ 2:14 PM

  5. Amazing that this has been swept under the rug so long, for example, the horrific way I (most of us..not all) were treated in dental school. AA may be a model, or a similar 12 step; also lots of data to show optimists are less accurately in tune with reality, and show worse judgement than pessimists. If you want to talk, I’d be happy to chat, or help as I can. Good luck, but I suspect you’ll piss a lot of people off (ADA, Educators, for 2) .

    Comment by john wilde — February 2, 2016 @ 10:07 PM

  6. John–they’re comparing it to PTSD. The diagnosis of professional burnout is distinct from depression. Take a look at Pam Wible’s website. Maybe if enough people get pissed off there will be educational reform. Maybe the federal government will start to subsidize professional schools again so these kids don’t come out owing hundreds of thousands of dollars–and can never get out of survival.
    My own dental school experience was good—but when I see these young kids today—I don’t think I could have survived.

    Comment by Barry — February 2, 2016 @ 11:28 PM

  7. My dental school experience was dreadful. I was a poor kid, like about half the class, and worked 40 hours a week my junior year. There was some staggering acts of discrimination, and the kids whose dads were doctors were treated entirely differently. I’ve never allowed anyone, before or since, to treat me the way the faculty did, and I’m embarrassed to this day that I allowed it. Stockholm syndrome? Be well, old friend, and my best to maddie.

    Comment by john wilde — February 3, 2016 @ 5:33 AM

  8. John –A few years ago there was a thread on Facebook about the appalling conditions in entail schools. I did not experience that—but I did when I graduated from some of the older dentists in my community.
    Dentistry is a fragmented profession…nothing keeps it together. At every level from school to local societies, dentists act independently – no organization…that’s the reason we are in the shape we are in.
    Of course there are many who would argue–that dentistry has never been better and nothing needs to change. Of course –if this were politics we would call those people…”bullies???”

    Comment by Barry — February 3, 2016 @ 2:19 PM

  9. Barry – thanks for broaching this very uncomfortable (for most) topic – it is something I am personally very familiar with… I also refer to the “extreme indifference” that is a by product of our profession, society and the drive it requires to matriculate the process and then “be successful.” Tough stuff and bless you for writing, researching and pulling it out into the light of day so we have to ALL face it… Hopefully! Blessings!

    Comment by Len Gerken — February 3, 2016 @ 6:57 PM

  10. Thanks Len, the more responses I get–here and on Facebook, confirms just how important this issue is. I like the term…indifference, and I agree, there is too much indifference to a problem that deserves more attention—from dental schools to the ADA.
    The complexity is overwhelming. When I had to deal with these issues it was the Pankey philosophy that helped. Today there is no excuse. We know much more now.

    Comment by Barry — February 3, 2016 @ 7:02 PM

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