I want to tell you about one of my favorite Thursdays where I realized the beautiful freedom of owning my own time. Click here to listen to the podcast and let’s discuss the awesome life you could be living as House call Dentist.
If you’ve picked up my free scheduling template called ‘A Day In the Life of a House Call Dentist,” you’ve already gotten a sneak peek into this story. For those of you who haven’t gotten the free guide, check out residentalmovement.com/adayinthelife.
My alarm went off at 4:45 am, which would’ve given me just enough time to get dressed and head to 5 am yoga at the studio around the corner from me. On this particular Thursday, I was SUPER tired because I was up late working on different projects the night before, so I canceled the alarm and decided to sleep in.
When I finally woke up, I felt great! I felt SO well-rested. But then the guilt set in. I was disappointed that I missed class that morning. I’d been looking forward to that class because I was working through a pretty stressful work season and I just wanted to get through a class and end it with a well-deserved Shavasana, you know?
But instead of ruminating in guilt, I decided to be grateful that I felt so well-rested and decided that today was going to be a great day. No matter what. As soon as I made that decision, I got the news that one of my patients on my schedule for the day tested positive for COVID and had to cancel their house call. I wasn’t happy that my patient was sick and I was bummed about an awkward hole in my schedule, but since I already decided to have a great day, I scheduled a mid-day yoga class to fill the gap between my other house calls. Yep, I was going to exercise in the middle of the day and earn my Shavasana after all. What kind of dentist has time to go to yoga at noon on a Thursday?
So, not only was the class itself awesome, but my classmates were, too. It turns out, a lot of pretty cool people have time to go yoga at noon on a Thursday! One woman in that class owns a gym up the road, one man owns the bar across the street, and another woman in that class runs a local charity. During that afternoon, I met a lot of like-minded people who also enjoy flexibility in their schedules, all because I mixed up my routine.
Ever since then, I intentionally schedule things between appointments whenever it makes sense to me. Manicures, meetings, grocery runs, whatever needs to get done. But seriously, the way I’m able to schedule my days makes them so enjoyable. This flexibility allows for a super healthy, low-stress work environment. So what do you want your days to look like?
Think about the kind of life you want. I want you to live an awesome, low-stress, healthy life as a dentist, too. A healthy dentist is best for patients.
All the ways chairside dentistry makes your schedule stiff
I’ll be honest, this podcast is called the ResiDENTAL Movement, so obviously I think your life would be enhanced by offering dental house calls, but let’s discuss some things, and you can decide.
The confinement factor
Think about it, a lot of dentists work in small, windowless offices. My preclinic lab in dental school, and even my first public health job, lacked windows. A lack of sunlight alone can make anyone stressed. Plus, as you’re confined to this one building and working in these small operatories all day, you aren’t physically progressing or going anywhere. It can make anyone bananas! The confinement factor can be stress and anxiety-inducing. A House-call dentist moves around all day, and the real sense of freedom is incomparable.
Historically, most dentists worked in solo practices, and solo practices are declining, so now only half of us work solo. But still, that means a lot of dentists don’t spend any time with peers during the day. The peer isolation at work for solo practitioners can cause a great deal of stress because these dentists have to “be on” all day.
Even though I don’t typically work with other dentists, I frequently schedule lunch meetings with other docs. I can drive to them, so it’s easy for me. For them, getting out for lunch and back to work in a short period is almost impossible. Also, I enjoy the company of other business owners throughout the day, too. Like at yoga, remember? They aren’t dentists, but they are peers in another sense. Please don’t get me wrong, co-workers can turn into friends but sometimes there can be odd power dynamics that contribute to further isolation.
This is another stress factor. More than a third of patients say that they experience dental anxiety. You know patients might be afraid of noises, smells, being tipped back, or just about anything at their appointment. They may have experienced trauma in the past or just had a terrible dental experience before. When patients are anxious, of course, that can pony up to your anxiety. You’re tip-toeing trying not to do or say anything anxiety-inducing. You’re cautious about stepping on the rheostat too loudly…You’re working swiftly because you don’t want to keep them open for too long... You have to be calmer and more collected than usual because they are NOT. Sometimes, this is easy. Other times, when it’s a hectic procedure and let’s say you drop a mirror on the floor, the short time it takes for your assistant to hand you a new one can feel like an ETERNITY.
Now patients at home also have dental anxiety, heck that’s why a lot of them need a dental house call in the first place, but at least they’re at home. They feel in control. They can light their favorite candle or stay in their favorite recliner. Their anxiety is there, but it’s toned-down, so as a house-call dentist, you have the freedom to take your time and be less stressed as well.
When patients rearrange their day so that they can drive to your office, there’s an expectation of punctuality on your part. You do your best to schedule ample time for procedures, but unpredictable things happen. The tooth try-in isn’t going well because the patient hates the shade that THEY picked out even though you TOLD them they wouldn’t like it. Someone smoked yesterday after extraction and showed up with a dry socket for you to pack. The simple MO turned into a MOB because the cusp was undermined.
All day, you’re working and then staring right back at the computer screen to check the schedule and stay on course. At some point, your goal is just to make it through the day. To be honest, have you ever had the craziest afternoon and prayed that your final patient no shows? On those days, they always show, don’t they? This is stressful stuff! And the crazy thing is that it’s become so NORMAL. Like just absolutely normal to get through the day, go home, and do it all over again tomorrow.
Chairside dentistry can feel like a rat race
House-call dentistry allows you to schedule enough time for each patient visit, drive time, and buffer time so that there is no rushing. You won’t have hygiene checks to do or any distractions while you’re working with just one patient at a time.
So maybe you don’t mind the chairside chaos. You just accept the stress. “It’s a part of the job and someone has to do it.” That’s somewhat true. Dentistry won’t ever be a stress-free profession, even house call dentistry has its stressors, but I believe that stressful moments SHOULD be kept to a minimum. I think house-call dentistry has far fewer stressors than chairside dentistry.
You already know the long-term health effects of chronic stress. Among dentists, there’s an alarmingly high incidence of cardiovascular disease, ulcers, hypertension, back pain, eye strain, addiction, depression, and suicide. I mean, suicide in dentistry has been studied since the 70s and modern studies still support that the prevalence of suicide amongst dentists is way higher than the national average.
So, considering that minimizing stress can be the difference between life and death for doctors, I’d say it’s pretty important. People who are stressed make more mistakes. The Journal of Patient Safety published a study last year that concluded that dental provider burnout is a key predictor of dental errors. Our patient’s safety is paramount. So if you don’t mind sacrificing your health for the sake of the rat race that’s fine, but maybe you’d consider exiting the rat race if it meant you could provide better care for your patients.
Consider becoming a house-call dentist so that you can stop by yoga and chat with some entrepreneurs in your neighborhood on a Thursday afternoon. At the minimum, I hope you choose to work in a healthy environment that makes you happy. It’ll make life healthier for you and your patients. I wish you the happiest, healthiest workplace
Whether you decide to pursue house-call dentistry or not, you can still support patients who need dental home care by contributing to the Home Smile Care Foundation. The Home Smile Care Foundation is a nonprofit organization founded by myself and my loved ones to offer financial support to patients who struggle to afford in-home care. Visit homesmilecarefoundation.org.