Dental Hygienist Burnout; Causes, Prevention, Burnout Rate

Holly Verran RDH is wearing black scrubs, a blue mask and safety glasses.

I have worked as a dental hygienist since 2014, and I hit burnout badly at the end of 2022. Because I experienced this myself, I wanted to open up and help other dental hygienists who may be going through the same thing. Burnout is not just a feeling of being tired and sad but can cause physical and mental harm.

Causes of burnout in dental hygienists include work factors, such as overworking, responsibilities, lack of proper equipment, patient care, and life events outside of work that can cause symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, lack of energy and concentration, and sleep habits and hair loss.

In this post, I cover in more detail the number of different reasons for dental hygienists to burnout, including my own experiences and how to manage these issues to allow you to prevent total burnout. If you are already burned out, I hope my information will help you reduce it, and you can find relief.

Causes of burnout in dental hygienists, including my causes

Burnout can build for a long time, but eventually, it all comes up, and our bodies let us know in pretty interesting ways.

For me, my burnout was caused by working too many hours, having too many responsibilities because we were short-staffed for too long, and the stress of the pandemic and the effect it had on my practice and the patients; I am an empath and tend to be affected by people’s stories and life experiences.

As well as in my personal life, we were moving and started to become much more social as people began seeing each other again.

The burnout led me to feel awful. I experienced shaking before work, the impending doom of going in and being stuck in my operatory with a patient that needed my full undivided attention, and the absolute dread of experiencing the job’s physical demands. I even experienced a couple of panic attacks while treating a patient, and I had to cancel the rest of my day and go home.

Feeling this way made me question why I was even a dental hygienist, and I thought about leaving the profession because I didn’t think I could do it anymore, as my body felt like it was shutting down.

I spoke with my therapist, and we talked about burnout and everything I was feeling, how to manage my feelings, and what I could do at work to improve my burnout.

Everyone is different, but in dental hygiene, there are some common causes of burnout.

No job is perfect, and I am being truthful when I say I love my career. I love being a dental hygienist and helping people improve oral health, but burnout can cloud those thoughts and make you second-guess yourself.

In the dental office, many things can contribute to burnout, including;

  1. number of hours working in a week or a day
  2. how many patients are treated in a day
  3. the attitudes and personalities of your coworkers
  4. the patients you see and their difficulty
  5. lack of vacation time
  6. lack of benefits
  7. lack of appreciation
  8. not being paid market salary
  9. feeling unheard
  10. coworkers not respecting your boundaries
  11. unequal treatment of staff members by boss/manager/practice owner
  12. lack of proper equipment
  13. micromanagement
You may only have to deal with one of these causes, but it still matters no matter how small or big something is. You deserve to be heard and be kind but firm when setting boundaries. 
I wrote an entire post that elaborates on how to prevent burnout as a dental hygienist and how to approach certain situations so you can feel validated, approach hard conversations and feel better, especially if reducing hours is not at option! The post is linked below!

Read Now: Prevent Burnout as a Dental Hygienist 17 Ways; My Experience

If you cannot escape these causes, it may be time to switch jobs and find a different dental office to work at.

That is what I had to do at the beginning of my career. I worked at a dental office with horrible management and cared more about the money than the patients. I couldn’t do it anymore, so I left!

Causes of burnout that occur outside the dental office

Burnout is not just from the job but also from life factors that occur outside the job.

Proper nutrition, exercise, world events, and everything we do in life impacts our lives and mental and physical health.

In the last couple of years, the world has experienced turmoil dealing with the pandemic, and the dental world took a hard hit.

Our patients were concerned about their health, with lockdowns, restrictions and the fear of catching the illness. It demanded extra energy and increased the risk of the job.

I remember seeing a chart of the most at-risk professions regarding contracting covid, and dental hygiene was at the top.

The study (linked below) discusses how dental hygienists were affected by the pandemic, including the enormous changes in how we practice, the increased PPE, and the restrictions of procedures that left my body overworking and over-compensating.

Literature supports high psychological distress, anxiety and depression among dental staff, including DHs, especially during the time of the outbreak [6,18,32] and particularly related to the increased level of uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and oral health care of the patient, and towards personal life and infectivity [33]

“The impact of COVID-19 on the dental hygienists: A cross-sectional study in the Lombardy first-wave outbreak”

These factors are a huge reason for increased burnout because it is exhausting and more demanding.

I know I had to work extra hours for months after we came back from being closed for three months to ensure that my patients were seen and they didn’t have to wait too long to get in again with me.

There was a considerable number of hygienists who took the opportunity to retire and not go back to work due to the risks. So there was no one to hire or cover the shifts. This, alone, I know, contributed to my burnout.

Other causes of burnout that occur outside the dental office

  • social calendar is too full
  • life events; moving, weddings, divorce, etc
  • illness
  • reduced self-care
  • imbalance of work and life
  • lack of support from the people around you

If you feel like you are burning out and are showing signs, there are some things you can do to prevent total burnout and feel better.

How to prevent burnout as a dental hygienist

I get a bit irritated when people only throw out ideas to prevent burnout, such as;

  • meditate
  • drink more water
  • get more sleep
  • exercise

They are so obvious. People know they should be drinking water, sleeping more and exercising! They are important to include. However, they are just the basics.

It is easier said than done, and for me, especially the “get more sleep” was impossible because one of my burnout symptoms was insomnia and inability to fall asleep for hours. I would then start counting down the hours of sleep I would get until I woke up for work if I fell asleep right now.

A screenshot of my work schedule on a Friday (in the green column). I book one hour for adults, at least 40 minutes for kids, and 50-60 minutes for teenagers. If I know a patient needs more time, I arrange it with the front desk.

Preventing burnout as a dental hygienist is different for everyone. Still, the biggest factor is reducing work hours in a week, increasing appointment times, understanding you can’t do everything and being honest and open with coworkers, managers and practice owners or owners.

But sometimes working fewer hours is impossible, as we all have bills and obligations.

Do you say, “I don’t want to be a dental hygienist anymore”?

The amount of times I said this in 2022 is ridiculous. I talk to my husband about it a lot, and I am so thankful he is so supportive. He told me to cut back some hours as I was working four days a week, and on some days, I am working on patients for 9-10 hours.

Because I was overworked and overtired, and my body was shutting down, I told my husband Harry that I needed a break, and I didn’t know if I could continue working in this field, and maybe I should try and do something else.

I made some minor changes in my job and set some boundaries, as well as boundaries with friends and family outside of work, saying that I need to limit social gatherings as my mind needs a break and reset on the weekends!

If you feel like leaving the profession, you know what is best for you, but tweaking small things, changing dental offices, or asking for a raise can improve things. Think about what you value or would need from your employer to make you happier and feel less burnout.

It may also be good to be reminded of why being a dental hygienist is worth it. More of that is in the post I wrote, which is linked below.

Good Jobs: Why Being a Dental Hygienist Is Worth It!

The burnout rate is quite common for dental hygienists, so the thought of leaving the profession is also quite common!

What is the burnout rate for dental hygienists?

The burnout rate of dental hygienists is between 36% and 41%, according to the Canadian Journal of Dental Hygiene, due to the pandemic alone. And about 8% of dental hygienists have left the profession since the beginning of the pandemic, according to The Journal of Dental Hygiene.

SourceOpens in a new tab.

I think that because there is a lack of dental hygienists, the demand for us and the overload of our schedules, and a massive change to how we practice have caused excess burnout and caused people to leave the profession.

I hope you have found this information to be insightful but also helpful!

Have a great day,

Holly 🙂

Recent Posts