Are You a Stressed Hygienist?

burnout in the dental industry dental careers dental hygiene dental hygienist managing stress overcoming burnout self-care for hygienists Mar 28, 2022

Are You a Stressed Hygienist?

Mindful Ways for Stress Reduction

Although dental hygiene can be a rewarding career, it often comes with lots of stress as well.  Factors such as challenging patient situations, ergonomic limitations, physical demands, time constraints, and even interoffice conflict can contribute to feeling both physically and psychologically stressed.

Simply put, as hygienists, we deal with two types of stressors, physical and psychological

  • Physical Stressors like poor ergonomics and the repetitive nature of practice can take a toll on our bodies and cause chronic pain. When we work day in and day out leaning, twisting, and moving our hands and wrists in repetition, we eventually feel it.

While we can take steps to reduce the wear and tear, some of it is inevitable so we need to find ways to relieve muscle tension.

  • Psychological Stressors can arise because of workplace stress. A 2015 survey in DentistryIQ revealed that the top three stressors were employer-based (33.52%), workload (32.23%), and co-worker conflict (19.74%).1

When we don’t reduce a stressful atmosphere, it can affect patient care and even follow us home.

When we are stressed, we are not our best.  

Not only does being a stressed hygienist affect your work and career satisfaction, but it can also affect your relationships outside of the office.  And considering that when surveyed in DentistryIQ, most dental hygienists report feeling stressed daily, we can definitely benefit from stress reduction strategies.1


Let’s face it, we can’t completely eliminate the stressors but can always look for ways to limit their negative effects. Utilizing mindfulness in reducing stress can be something that we can do both in and out of the office to make our days calmer and ultimately our careers more satisfying. 

What is Mindfulness?

“Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” 2

Sometimes when we think of mindfulness, meditation may be what comes to mind.  And yes, meditation can certainly help with stress reduction.  But mindfulness techniques can vary and be those in which we can draw our attention to our internal feelings and surroundings. By bringing more awareness within, we can focus, move, and breathe with intention and promote calm.  

These are techniques we can apply when dealing with the daily stress we face as hygienists while both in and out of the office.

Mindful Stress Reduction

Even if you have never heard of mindful stress reduction, no worries because it’s easy to get started!

Mindfulness is not meant to be something new-age or foreign. It is merely meant to help you connect to You, Your feelings, and Your thoughts. It helps you recognize physical and psychological stressors so that you can better manage how they affect you.  

Learning more about mindfulness is easier than ever thanks to a wide supply of sources like easily accessible reading resources, calming apps, and simple techniques like the ones we’ll discuss here:

Mindful Breathing 

Deep breathing helps us reduce stress by bringing a healthy supply of oxygen to our brain while also stimulating our parasympathetic nervous system to promote a greater sense of calm.3

  • Breathing Techniques   - Check out this article for some great options!
  • Meditation - You only need a few minutes in your day to start.  Try this simple 3-minute guided meditation that you could even do over your lunch hour. 

Mindful Movement

Movement helps us reduce stress in two ways, by increasing endorphins and easing muscle tension.   

  • Mindful Walks - Start by picking a time to walk before work, over your lunch hour, or after a long clinical day.  You can take steps in a more mindful way by bringing your attention to sights, sounds, smells, and the feeling of your feet and breath.
  • Gentle Yoga Stretches - Whether at work in your operator’s chair or at home on the mat, you can find ways to stretch and release physical stress throughout your day.

Grounding Exercises

Grounding exercises can help you in moments of more intense stress so that you can move away from the immediate stressor.  These exercises focus on connecting with the present and promote a sense of calm.

  • STOP  - STOPing is an acronym for the exercise that you can use when you are triggered by something stressful. 

When something triggers you to feel stressed or angered, stop, take a breath, observe your feelings, and proceed after considering all of your options.

To use this method, take a deep breath and then find 5 things you see, 4 things you feel, 3 things you hear, 2 things you smell, and 1 thing you taste.


Remember that keeping stress in check is your best bet to prevent and to address those uncontrollable stressors that come your way.  Whether you suffer from chronic stress or just find yourself in occasional situations that make your blood boil, mindfulness is a great addition to your stress reduction toolbox. 

With Mindfulness, you can go from being a Stressed Hygienist to Happy Hygienist!



About the Author: Suzanne L. Vila, RDH, PHDHP, B.A.


 Suzanne is a Registered Dental Hygienist in Central PA who works in private periodontal practice and at a local college as an adjunct dental hygiene faculty. After a thirty-year career in dental hygiene, Suzanne is now creating non-clinical projects involving professional enhancement, public health initiatives, and patient education. In addition to being a passionate dental practitioner, Suzanne enjoys teaching fitness classes such as Pilates and yoga, volunteering with the local dog rescue Pitties.Love.Peace, and spending time with her family and their two rescued pit bulls, Rudy & Freya.


  1. Career Satisfaction Survey: Coping with Stress | Dentistry IQ.
  2. Staff, Mindful, et al. “What Is Mindfulness?” Mindful, 23 Nov. 2021,
  3. “Take a Deep Breath.” The American Institute of Stress, 4 Jan. 2017,,head%20and%20quiets%20your%20mind.