Five Habits for Successfully Handling the Stress of a Dental Career

Emily Letran, DDS, MS

When was the last time you felt stressed because things didn’t go according to plan and you felt like you lost control? Was it last week? Yesterday? Today, right after lunch? Or 20 minutes ago?

Stress is part of our daily lives. We wake up early and try to do 10 things before leaving the house. If you have kids, maybe 15!

If you’re lucky enough to live in beautiful Southern California, add at least another 30 minutes to your morning and evening commute.

Even if you show up to work in an almost perfect state, other factors may ruin your day: the patient is late, the lab messed up the shade, your new assistant sets up the wrong bur while you have the most demanding patient in the chair, and Mrs. Smith is back again for the fourth adjustment on her denture reline, ignoring the fact that you recommended a new one.

Should I go on?

As a practicing dentist for more than 25 years, running multiple multi-specialty group practices, being the self-proclaimed “best mom in the world” to three beautiful children, and trained as a Certified High Performance Coach, I have been blessed to learn and discover strategies to live my life with intention and conquer the stress that plague many dental practitioners.

I still have stress, of course. But most of the time I see it as the “good stress,” the kind that challenges and pushes me to do things better, to finish faster, and to beat my own last record!

So the next time you feel stressed and you’re facing a difficult situation, dealing with the unknown, and about to pull your hair out, take a moment to reflect, reframe, and practice five high-performance habits: clarity, energy, productivity, courage, and influence.


Clarity is knowing who you are, what you want, and what is most important to you. A lot of time we feel stress because we are wearing too many hats: owner, operating doctor, “boss,” CEO, parent, child, friend, advisor, and so on and trying to please too many people.

Ask yourself when the last time was you put yourself first, because it is important to take care of yourself first so you can serve other people. When you become real clear in your vision and goals, then you should only do the things that support those goals. The rest can wait! When you clearly recognize what’s most important, it becomes a lot easier to prioritize and commit.


When you don’t have enough energy to get through the day, things become stressful very quickly. You’re tired and not concentrating. You rely on coffee and sweets to combat the afternoon crash. (The next time you’re in a seminar, just look at the people who have soda, coffee, and candy in front of them!) Many professionals don’t get enough sleep. If you think about it, most of us have an 8-to-5 or 9-to 6-job. If you take work home, it is entirely your choice. If you stay up late, it is also your choice.

If you don’t have time to exercise (whether it’s a stretching routine in the morning, a walk at lunchtime, or something else) or close your eyes and rest for 5 to 10 minutes during the day, it is because you don’t schedule it, block the calendar, and allow yourself that “me” time. It may sound childish, but this is the exact same thing I have to remind my clients to do to maintain their energy all the time.


Productivity should be measured by results, not by being busy. Some people live by checklist, and if things aren’t checked off, they get stressed. Some people go through the motions because it’s just another day. Being productive requires you to be very intentional.

If you want more referrals, train your staff to ask for them and also ask for them yourself. If you want to streamline your business, implement systems and possibly hire a coach or consultant for help.

Try this exercise. List everything you do in a working day, such as answering email, checking your phone messages, chatting with your staff, performing chairside work, and taking clinical notes. Put a checkmark next to the activities that produce income and delegate the tasks that don’t produce income.

You may find the few things that should be on your list are chairside work and preparing marketing strategies. The rest you can delegate. Even with clinical work, you can have an associate or specialist replace you!


No one wants to be uncomfortable, yet it is essential to growth. Doing something out of your comfort zone requires courage and commitment. Remember your first major purchase, like a house, a practice, or a piece of high-tech equipment? How about a tough conversation you need to have with your spouse, your staff, or a difficult patient?

We get stressed out because we avoid the “conflict” that helps us grow. The sooner we decide to follow through with our big decision, maybe with a coach or an advisor, or to let go and have no regrets, the sooner we will feel less stressed in dealing with these situations.


We get stressed when we cannot manage our team. We feel challenged when patients don’t follow our treatment recommendations. Positioning yourself as an expert and learning principles of persuasion will help you become more confident. If you are clear in your vision and goal, you can be pushy and get people to follow you, engage with you, and do what you asked them to do.

Your Turn

These habits should be your way of life. Get real clear in your vision, goals, and values, and start being very intentional about your daily schedule, what you spend time on, or the people you need to please.

When you face a tough decision and feel overwhelmed by stress, evaluate it via these habits, handle the bite-size challenges, and don’t let the stress control you. Believe in your ability to figure things out, as you have all along, and reach out for help if you need to. If you lead your life with controlled stress and well-defined intentions, you will find yourself happier and more productive.


Dr. Letran is an international speaker, author, and Trainer in High Performance Leadership. She also has been the CEO of several multi-specialty dental group practices for more than 20 years in Southern California. She is a former president of the UCLA Dental School Alumni Association. Also, she is the local club president of CEO Space, and Certified Marketing Advisor of the No BS Inner Circle. She is the founder of the Emily Letran Foundation, which provides basic dental care to disadvantaged veterans and families during her monthly Free Dentistry Day, as well. She can be reached at For a consultation, visit or


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