Getting Back in the Dental Office Doesn’t Mean the Stress Is Over

Maggie Augustyn, DDS


We have been thrown in the deep end of the “back to work” waters. Waves of anxiety over personal protection equipment (PPE), financial recovery, and the possible resurgence of COIVD-19 all crashing into us at the same time can make us feel like we’re drowning.

The lack of or significantly reduced production for almost three months, home schooling, and speculation about the vaccine has left us exhausted.

We are unsure about our kids returning to school this fall, complicating childcare. We wonder if we’ve sourced too many or too few KN95 masks and face shields. We wonder if the newly imposed limits on ordering cavicide will be enough to cover us day to day. We worry about the cost of gloves almost doubling and where the next badly needed liter of hand sanitizer will come from.

And in facing all of this stress, we must continue to stand tall, guiding our team and patients as the leaders we’ve promised ourselves to be.

Day to Day Stress

We are facing many changes, and with those changes come challenges. We are getting used to working in the sizzling hot conditions courtesy of our new masks, gowns, head coverings, and beloved face shields. The air conditioning can’t go low enough.

Our patients are slowly transitioning into following the new post-COVID procedures and protocols. There aren’t enough team members making calls rescheduling the last three months of our calendar, asking pre-screening COVID questions, following up on PPE fees, drafting paperless treatment plans, and collecting up-front payments via phone or text.

Phone conversations between our team and patients are significantly longer than usual, reviewing the new measures put forth to help them not just be safe but also feel safe.

We have been forced to see fewer patients hour to hour to comply with social distancing and sometimes using every other operatory for the safety of our patients and our teams. Lunches are a 10-minute break before returning to taking calls and having post-treatment planning discussions.

Patients have questions about the necessity of treatment, its urgency, and our commitment to their safety. The older the population we treat, the more involved and heartfelt these conversations are. We have taken countless hours to train our team in check-in and check-out procedures and have instilled a culture with even more compassion and empathy toward one another and our patients.

As our passion for returning to work is still high, we are enthralled in making plans for recovering financially from the closed offices that kept most of us at home. For those with Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan money in the bank, the next 24 weeks will prove to be less difficult.

But just the same, as practice owners with business inclinations, we’ve spent time forecasting what it’ll take to keep our businesses afloat. We’ve calculated our recovery hourly production numbers. And at times, these numbers can seem overwhelming.

New graduates waiting anxiously for their license wonder what this new landscape will bring in terms of finding employment three, six, or 12 months down the line. New associates fear if their parent offices will stay busy enough to keep up with their per diem.

Keep the Opportunity Alive

As real as the fear was going into COVID-19, a similar intensity of concern leers over us now. There is one difference, however. We cannot unknow what we’ve learned during the months of the pandemic. The lessons self-taught or learned from one another are ones that we can hope will carry us all into creating an unbreakable reality of what is truly important in our lives.

During the shutdown, in complete surprise, it seems we were able to take somewhat of a break. Life had slowed down a bit, perhaps not for all, but for many. Bikes were taken out of storage, and helmets and elbow pads were sold out in stores. Our dogs got tired of going for walks. We took the time to figure out what we had been missing out on.

And the lesson in this is to not forget those things. In many instances, it may have been the recent soft pedal in our journey that made us realize a good book can help us fall asleep better at night. Or maybe we realized that cooking and baking were in our DNA after all—which has in turn caused us to hide our scales under our mattresses to keep secret the pounds that so easily had come on.

Whatever these 10 weeks and more have taught us, without a doubt, we have realized that however difficult the pandemic has been on all of us, it also has created an opportunity.

It has been an opportunity for us to have gone looking for what in our lives felt good. In the true nature of trial and error, we found what we loved doing, be it spending time with family, bike riding, writing, or gardening. And we would let the quarantine time go to waste if we didn’t hold ourselves up to sustaining and keeping the truth in that newfound joy.

So whatever your discovery has been during the pandemic, whatever you’ve found to keep you sane and afloat, whatever you’ve enjoyed doing in keeping yourself mindful and in the present, keep doing it and find the time to do it a lot.

Work-Life Balance Reimagined

In all of our years of work and school, many of us have found ourselves feeling guilty, most commonly of putting our family affairs on the back burner. Torn between growing our practice  and tending to our families, sometimes we have had to make the uncomfortable choice of staying behind for a patient and missing out on baby’s first steps, a first home run, or maybe even teaching our kids how to drive. I certainly hold guilt from much of it.

COVID-19 might have been an awakening to restructure our schedule and, more importantly, our priorities. Now that we are filled with what a home-cooked meal for a whole family might look like, it’ll be a lot harder to let it go. And for that reason, we cannot let it go.

With different people managing different finical obligations, and not making light of how significant that change might be, COVID-19 has given us the freedom to put ourselves and our families ahead of our careers. And the best way to make them a priority is… to make them a priority. There’s no other way around it.

A Word of Caution

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention another important balancing post-pandemic lesson. It is finding a way to practice self-care during the challenging time of returning to work. With various fears, which differ for each one of us, we continue to be worn and exhausted from the day’s pass. We experience the aforementioned guilt, frustration, and need to provide strong leadership to those in our charge (per Simon Sinek).

In my time of self discovery, I have found that one of the most important challenges I faced wasn’t finding empathy toward my team or patients, or even my kids or family. It was finding self-compassion. The first rule of self-compassion is to learn to treat yourself and talk to yourself the way you would your best friend or own child.

Dr. Augustyn is a practicing general dentist. She earned a DDS from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She also has completed the course sequence with the Dawson Academy’s continuum in oral equilibration and cosmetic dentistry. She completes a minimum of 30 hours of continuing education each year as well, including orthodontics, implantology, periodontics, prosthodontics, and cosmetics. Dr. Augustyn is an avid writer. Additionally, she is a moderator on the Dental Nachos. She can be reached at

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