Improving the Mental Health of Oral Surgeons

Before on this site mental health of dentists has been discussed and particularly addressing mental health issues early on such as during dental education see for example the posts A Counseling Model for Dental Students, Designing a Predoctoral Dental Curriculum To Help With Therapy Issues such as Stress Management and Suicide Prevention, and Medical Students Are At Risk For Suicide. However, many oral surgeons are still afraid to own up to any mental health issues they may have. This is discussed in the editorial titled “Time to change the narrative” appearing in Oral Surgery in 2018 (vol. 11, pp. 97–97).

The editorial discusses how oral surgery is increasing a stressful profession. This is because of increasing threats of litigation along with patients increasing having higher expectations of surgical outcomes. The traits that define a good surgeon are those who put the health of their patients above everything else in their lives. However the editorial suggests surgeons are more prone to suicide, substance abuse and mental illness when compared to other medical specialties. Thus it is also imperative that surgeons take time to take care of themselves. Doing so can help prevent burnout where symptoms like exhaustion and lack of connectedness in relationships is prevalent. Such burnout can lead to medical errors and patient harm. The authors state:

“However, stress, burnout and mental illness are often seen as somewhat of a taboo subject within surgery. There is a perceived need to ‘keep calm and carry on.’”

The editorial is a call to action for any surgeon experiencing any of the signs of
stress and burnout to take active steps to address it before it leads to poor patient care. The editorial also suggests that if a surgeon notices a colleague is potentially suffering from stress, burnout, or mental illness that they take steps to help that colleague out in their time of need. The editorial thus suggests that mental illness among surgeons should not be something that no one every talks about and instead something where it is discussed.

group of doctors - Improving the Mental Health of Oral Surgeons
This image is by Luis Melendez on Unsplash

As discussed in the other posts mentioned above it is possible to start changing this narrative of talking about mental health early on in a surgeons career. This can be done by providing a dental curriculum where students are given skills and techniques for stress management and suicide prevention. Such a doctoral curriculum can equip a dental student with the skills needed to identify signs of burnout syndrome at a young age so they can be equipped for this throughout their professional careers. Further it is possible to integrate a therapist into the dental school where all students can have access to them as needed and without additional cost. This can also allow for understanding and dealing with mental illness early on in a surgeons career. Hopefully by teaching young surgeons the skills they need to manage stress, prevent burnout, and deal with mental illness at a young age future surgeons will not be worse off than other medical specialties when it comes to these issues. For those surgeons who have already completed the early part of their career they may consider online therapy or online psychiatry. As discussed for example at BetterHelp online therapy may be beneficial for those who are busy and don’t have the time to travel for more traditional therapy. Hopefully in the near future the majority of surgeons will no longer be afraid to develop the tools needed to successfully deal with mental health issues.

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