MAS is proud to sponsor the New Zealand Dental Association Well Aware Together Roadshow, a series of interactive workshops designed to support Kiwi dentists towards better health and wellness.

For many dentists, the drive to help others is a key reason for entering the profession. But with skyrocketing workloads, mounting pressures and growing rates of burnout, who’s looking out for those who look after our teeth? 

To encourage professionals to put wellness back in the spotlight, the New Zealand Dental Association joined forces with the experts at Revolutionaries of Wellbeing, to create a wellbeing strategy tailored specifically for dentists. With support from MAS, it was developed into a roadshow that recently travelled to 11 locations around the country.

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Ami Gilchrist, Director (Membership Services) at the New Zealand Dental Association, says the interactive roadshow focused on practical strategies that dentists could use in their everyday lives.

“When it comes to what ‘wellbeing’ actually is, many people think it means doing yoga or meditation, but in reality, it goes far beyond that. Our Well Aware workshops looked at aspects like self leadership, identifying what wellbeing means for you personally, and how to be proactive with it. We covered signs and symptoms of mental health challenges, how to be a good support person if we identify those signs in others, and answered questions like, why is mental health so hard to talk about, and how do we overcome that?

“These are all supported by a range of tools on our website, where our members can download templates and other material to help put these steps into practice.”

With the goal of getting as many dentists involved as possible, MAS funding played a vital role in getting the message out.

“The MAS sponsorship allowed us to travel throughout the country, ensuring dentists in smaller cities and towns could take part,” says Ami. “It also meant we could keep the workshops free of charge for our members.”

Making meaningful change

While some wellbeing programmes stick to basics like sleep, exercise and nutrition, the Well Aware Roadshow went deeper, covering topics that incorporated feedback from a survey of more than 500 Kiwi dentists.

The survey was developed as part of an extensive research project by the New Zealand Dental Association. It found 60% of participants reported at least one period of poor mental health in the past month, while 54% felt they did not take adequate holidays each year, and 1 in 4 respondents said they would consider changing their career if given the opportunity.

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For roadshow presenters and Revolutionaries of Wellbeing experts, Sarah McGuinness and Chris Hewitt, the first step to addressing these issues is having the courage to talk about life’s challenges. 

“A key message of the roadshows was, ‘it’s time to open up’”, says Sarah. “One of the things we found difficult was getting dentists to share their stories; there’s a real reticence to be vulnerable. That’s partly to do with the culture that surrounds dentistry, and the expectations of success and achievement.

“We know that what’s happening with wellbeing in dentistry in New Zealand is also happening overseas, so a lot of this isn’t new. But the fact that the New Zealand Dentist Association has been really proactive in developing a wellbeing strategy across the profession is actually world-leading.” 

Alongside navigating wellbeing on a personal level, another key theme of the workshops was how to cope with situations that fall outside of what we can manage as individuals.

“As a society, people tend to have a shorter fuse these days, and professions across the board are seeing rising customer aggression,” says Chris. “Something that stood out with the research was how patients can be the biggest source of joy as well as being the biggest source of stress for dentists.

“So part of what we focused on was thinking about ‘how much of what stresses you out as a dentist is within your control to influence, or outside your control - things like diary management for example. How can you get really smart at addressing that at a root cause level?”

Wellbeing at work

While each profession has its own set of unique issues to deal with, there are a range of common workplace stressors that can strike almost everyone.

Whether it’s having to skip lunch to face an afternoon of endless meetings or dealing with the fallout from a mistake, Sarah says it often comes back to two key factors: agency and control.

“It doesn’t matter which body of evidence you look at, the research is always the same: it’s vital that people feel like they have agency and control over their own lives. But in workplaces, we might not have that. Whether it’s the workload, reactions from patients, or supply chain issues making it hard to get what you need. The more those sorts of things chip away at you, the more stressful it is, and the less you have in the tank.”

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And regardless of the business or industry, the only way to boost wellbeing at work is for everyone to play a part in making things better.

“Change doesn’t typically happen overnight,” says Chris, “but when everyone takes responsibility, that’s when you see cultures - even across a whole profession - start to shift.”

“Workplace wellbeing isn’t about the office fruit bowl or the resilience course. It’s about getting really proactive on what a good day looks like for you personally, and what that looks like for the workplace. It’s things like making sure people feel listened to and giving them a voice. We know this sort of stuff is really effective, and the more we have these conversations and make changes, the better things will be.”

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