Coping with fear, anxiety about dental practice changes during COVID-19 pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many dentists have experienced a drastic change to how they practice, and many may be facing fear and anxiety related to the financial and other implications of this. The “ODA Today” spoke with Arianna Galligher, LISW-S, associate director of the STAR Trauma Recovery Center & Partial Hospitalization & Intensive Outpatient Programs at the OSU Wexner Medical Center and Harding Hospital, to answer some common questions that dentists may be facing during this crisis.

Q: Many dentists have suddenly found themselves in a difficult financial situation where they are uncertain about their future. Many  owner dentists have shut down or significantly reduced their practices and are uncertain if they will financially be able to afford the closure. Employee dentists may have been laid off in addition to having significant student loan debt. How can dentists cope with these uncertain financial times and the fear and anxiety associated with this?

A: First, it’s important to recognize that a certain level of anxiety makes sense when things outside our control happen and we don’t have all the answers about what will happen next. Feeling anxious doesn’t mean the worst-case scenario is imminent, but in situations like this it can give us the motivation we need to consider what “Plan B” may look like. Sometimes it helps to get a little concrete. Instead of worrying about the “what if …” it can be helpful to sit down with a pen and paper to brainstorm about, “if, then.”

Q: Many dentists are very close with their staff and even consider them to be like family, but unfortunately may have had to lay them off. Some dentists may be facing guilt over this situation. How can they deal with this type of guilt?

A: For dentists who’ve had to lay off staff, it’s important to remember that the decision was made to protect the public during this time of crisis. Expressing regret that lay-offs were necessary, and offering reassurance to staff that their jobs will be waiting for them when it’s safe to re-open can go a long way toward maintaining healthy relationships with staff. Encouraging those who’ve been laid off to file for unemployment benefits so that they can receive some income during this time can also help with coping.  

Q: Many dentists build close relationships with their patients over many years, but currently cannot see them regularly. How can dentists cope with or manage this disconnect from their patients?

A: Especially while many practices are not scheduling in-person visits, or have temporarily closed their offices, it may be beneficial for dentists to consider scheduling a quick phone call with patients to let them know you’re thinking of them during this challenging time. A simple act of kindness like this can have a big impact on the patient, and it can help dentists feel a little more connected. If calling patients isn’t an option, it’s important to remember that this situation is temporary. This, too, shall pass.  

Q: Dentists are used to a lot of social interaction and mental stimulation. How can they cope with social distancing?

A: Many people are finding it helpful to utilize technology to assist with remaining active and social during this time. FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Skype, Facebook Messenger Video, or Zoom are popular platforms where people can videochat to stay connected with one another. Some are using this “forced downtime” to engage with a hobby (like taking a virtual museum tour, reading, playing a musical instrument, dancing, baking, or crocheting a blanket) or learn a new skill (like learning a new language).  

Q: As health care workers, some dentists and dental staff members are afraid of becoming infected with COVID-19. How can they cope with this fear?

A: Gather information from reputable sources, follow recommendations about social distancing and good hand hygiene, exercise and eat well, take care of your body, take breaks from the news to engage in something nourishing for the soul.