A mantra is a word, phrase, or sound that can be repeated to focus our thoughts. Often used in yoga and meditation, mantras can be used in any aspect of life and can be said aloud or thought silently. A positive affirmation can be a mantra, although some affirmations are lengthy and not usually repeated over and over. Mantras can be used as a tool to reduce anxiety and stress and to maintain focus.
As dental hygienists, we have a lot of time to sit in our own thoughts because the patient’s mouth is open for much of dental hygiene therapy, so conversation is hindered. A mantra is a way to actively choose the direction of our thoughts during this time. We can fill our minds with positive thinking and distract ourselves from negative self-talk.
Focusing on positive thoughts has been shown to improve mental health. In a study published by Behaviour Research and Therapy in 2016, replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts helped patients with generalized anxiety disorder to reduce anxiety levels.1
Dental hygiene can be a stressful career, so every bit of stress management helps. Dental hygienists can use mantras to focus their minds during parts of their shifts that are draining and anxiety-inducing. Below are five mantras that have proven helpful for me during my time as a hygienist.
1) Every shift ends
We’ve all had those shifts where nothing is going right. Maybe the office is short-staffed, the computer server is down, or there’s a string of difficult patients back-to-back. When it feels like I’m caught in a spiral of chaos, I like to remind myself that the workday is going to end, and I will get to go home and rest.
2) I’m making a difference
When times are stressful, it is important to remember that you are providing a valuable service. Every year, more research is published confirming what hygienists already know: Oral health profoundly affects the entire body. You are helping people improve their total body health.
Many parts of the world have a shortage of qualified dental professionals. Each dental hygienist in the workforce is helping their patients have access to oral healthcare. Sometimes dentistry can feel like a thankless job, but it is so incredibly important for our patients.
3) All I can do is my best
Sometimes, it feels like dental hygienists are expected to be miracle workers. I’m a lifelong people pleaser, so it can be distressing to not measure up to the expectations of others. But it’s important to realize that sometimes, the expectations placed on hygienists are unreasonable.
An overdue patient may be upset that you can’t remove all their heavy tobacco stains in one appointment. Maybe your office makes you see a patient who is 20 minutes late and then is frustrated that you ran late all morning.
It’s hard not to internalize their disappointment, but keep reminding yourself that you’re doing the best you possibly can.
4) You can’t please everyone
Like I said, I’m a lifelong people pleaser, so I often have to repeat this one. Sometimes, as soon as I bring a patient into my operatory, they are upset that I’m not the hygienist they saw last time. Other times, I’ve performed quality, thorough hygiene therapies just to hear the patient tell the front office, “She was too slow. Schedule me back with the other one.”
You can communicate your methodology and provide the best chairside manner, but sometimes, patients still don’t like you.
While we’d all love to have 100% approval ratings, the reality is that there are going to be people who just don’t like us. If constructive criticism is offered, you can keep that in mind. Besides that, just try to block out that negative energy.
If the vast majority of your patients are satisfied, try not to let the outliers get you down. Every provider has had patients they didn’t click with. And again, some people have unreasonable expectations. You really can’t please everyone, and that’s OK.
5) I am highly skilled
Every hygienist struggles sometimes. Don’t let those struggles riddle you with self-doubt. You graduated dental hygiene school, passed your boards, and have provided quality care to many patients.
Every hygienist has missed calculus. Everyone has taken bitewing radiographs where they just couldn’t get the distal of the second molars. Every hygienist has run late with their appointments. You can use those experiences to learn, grow, and improve. It’s all part of being a hygienist. Just be sure not to ruminate on the bad moments, forgetting all the times you’ve done a stellar job.
When repeating mantras, we are occupying our minds with a single, intentional thought. We are working to fill our minds with something positive, which will help to keep out the intrusive thoughts and negative self-talk. Next time you are experiencing a stressful time at work, try repeating a mantra in your head. It can be one of the phrases from this article or something of your own creation.
See if redirecting your mental energy works for you and makes your shift a little easier. Dentistry is stressful enough without us being our own worst critics.
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1. Eagleson, C., Hayes, S., Mathews, A., et al. The Power of Positive Thinking: Pathological Worry is Reduced by Thought Replacement in Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Behaviour Research and Therapy. 2016; 78: 13-18. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0005796715300814