Ask a dental assistant how they’re feeling about both their work and personal-life routines these days, and they might respond with these words:
“Drained.” “Tired.” “Scared.” “Stressed.”
At least, this is what the Dental Assisting National Board found when we surveyed dental assistants in October 2020. Nearly 60% of responding dental assistants said that managing their emotional health was a big or moderate challenge for them right now.
“This is so tiring on our souls,” admits Brandi S., who recently left the dental profession after spending 18 years as a dental assistant.
Agrees Sally S., a dental assistant for more than 25 years: “I’ve never felt more stressed in my whole career! These times are really wearing on me. Is this true of anyone else??”
From what we’ve gleaned from our survey results, the answer is a resounding yes.
Concerned about COVID Exposure
Of course, dental assistants say they are worried about their physical health and potentially becoming exposed to COVID-19 both at home and at work. One surveyed dental assistant simply cites their biggest concern as the “daily stress of trying to stay healthy and the fear of getting COVID.”
Another dental assistant elaborates on this worry: “I am putting myself at risk every day, because we are at the highest risk. I don’t feel comfortable even doing in-house laundry because of the nature of the virus, but our employer is not going to hire an outside company to do it, so I feel stuck.”
Dental assistants are also concerned about potentially passing the virus to their families. As one dental assistant survey respondent mentions, “My stress level is higher, and I’m being careful not to bring germs home. I change my clothes and shoes before leaving the office.”
This particular feeling appears to be especially common among those who live with people at high risk for COVID-19. “I have medical issues,” a dental assistant says. “My mother lives with me; she has dementia. I’m scared of catching the virus at work and bringing it home. We had two employees test positive … enough said.”
Mental and emotional health management is top of mind for dental assistants now. “This all has made me a lot more anxious and stressed, especially since I already experienced feelings of anxiety before the pandemic,” adds a dental assistant survey respondent.
Overloaded at Work and Home
The survey also points to a mounting to-do list being a big cause of stress for dental assistants. In fact, many dental assistant survey respondents say they’re taking on more duties in the dental office, which is extending their workdays and cutting into their time at home with their families. All this increases stress, considering that most are already navigating unique, modified home routines to boot.
Comments one dental assistant: “Our schedule at work and home is a mess. We are all just trying to survive.”
“It’s exhausting, keeping yourself isolated and balancing things at work and home,” acknowledges another dental assistant respondent.
For some, such juggling seemed downright impossible. “I could not balance work and home life,” one dental assistant admits. “I took indefinite leave from my dental assistant role.”
In fact, some are so stressed not only by an extended workday but also by COVID coming too close to home that they’re similarly considering leaving the profession.
Through the survey, we learned that one dental assistant who’s now back at work has wrestled with this very choice: “I almost lost my brother, who was very sick with COVID, and my daughter who is a nurse had COVID, too. I almost didn’t go back to work.”
Affected by School Closures
When it comes to balancing work and home life, some dental assistants we heard from specifically mention a shortage or lack of child care as a common stress factor. “Schools are closed, so I have to stay home,” elaborates one dental assistant survey respondent. “But my employer doesn’t seem to understand.”
For those who do have day care availability, the changes in protocol there are still causing work interruptions. “The hardest part about COVID for me is constantly having to leave work because my kids keep getting sent home from day care for illness they wouldn’t normally get sent home for,” one dental assistant explains. “This has forced me to leave work and my office to be short-staffed and makes me fear for my job security.”
Adds a dental assistant parent with a similar experience: “I have had to stop working due to no day care availability for my son. I have to home-school him almost seven hours a day, without much time to work out and do my other usual routines.”
But, despite this and other challenges the pandemic has brought, this dental assistant — like others — is choosing to look on the bright side: that they’re not alone in navigating such a stressful time.
“We now have a different lifestyle. But I know we’re not the only families going through this.”
How have you felt during this time? Share your story.