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Endodontics on the Front Lines: Managing the Emotional Toll of Serving During a Pandemic

By Brett E. Gilbert, D.D.S.

Endodontists are now on the front lines in the effort to control the COVID-19 pandemic! Our specialty has been called upon to address dental emergencies in an effort to keep patients with severe dental distress away from the hospital emergency rooms.  Never before, in the glorious history of our specialty, have we been called upon to serve in this way.  This is a risky position to be in, but our training has prepared us for this moment.

Our goal and purpose in this pandemic is to help preserve the limited resources available in our local hospitals.  Our medical colleagues are clear that they are concerned about the shortages they have in manpower, PPE supplies and general patient capacity limits.   This is why we are called upon to serve.   We must quickly adapt to the necessary PPE and learn the evolving safety protocols that are critical to mitigate the risk of contracting and or passing the virus.  Dental emergencies will not stop so we must step up and intercept them.

For as long as this pandemic goes on, we must face and accept that we are putting ourselves at higher risk of contracting this virus and bringing it home with us after each clinical day.  We are certainly not used to being on the front lines and placing ourselves in a significantly risky health situation on a daily basis.  So how do we manage the emotional toll that this takes on us individually, as families and as a community?

It is critical to remember that there are tools available to all of us to address stress, emotional fatigue, and concern for our safety.  WE MUST PRIORITIZE SELF-CARE.  Our sleep becomes our biggest resource to stay healthy.  Eating healthy foods and focusing on staying hydrated are a must.   Incorporating the practices of deep breathing techniques, yoga, exercise and meditation to relieve stress and anxiety are powerful tools.  We must stay centered and focused on our purpose.  This is difficult to accomplish without good self care habits.  We can also collectively lift the morale of our community by supporting each other with regular communication using conference or zoom calls.  This is the time to lean on our community and support each other clinically, educationally and emotionally.

I believe that each clinician needs to make the decision as to whether or not to serve during this public health crisis.  Each of us must evaluate our own life circumstances while considering the underlying health of ourselves and our family members.  We must decide for ourselves what is best for our families.

I personally feel a tremendous responsibility and duty to serve and treat emergencies at this time.  However, I also acknowledge the emotional toll that this is taking on me each day.  It feels as if every move I make in my office is a life or death decision.  As this crisis extends from weeks into months, we must all be prepared to conserve ourselves so that we remain strong until this difficult situation is resolved.

As endodontists, we are all infused with incredible pride and dedication to our specialty and profession.  Our passion and commitment to service will guide us through this crisis.  Once this COVID-19 outbreak is behind us, I envision our global endodontic community proudly celebrating our courageous efforts in the face of this pandemic.  May we all be blessed with safety and health.  Let’s keep our spirits high and support ourselves and one another until we meet again on the other side of COVID-19.

Dr. Brett E. Gilbert graduated from the University of Maryland Dental School in 2001 and completed his postgraduate training in Endodontics from the University of Maryland Dental School in 2003.  He is currently a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Endodontics at the University of Illinois-Chicago, College of Dentistry and on staff at Presence Resurrection Medical Center in Chicago.  He is a past-president of the Illinois Association of Endodontists. Dr. Gilbert is Board-certified, a Diplomate of the American Board of Endodontics.