Sir, I think we can all recall the horror of that day in March. I remember a few days prior to the dreaded day, I was booking my patient in for an 11 (UR1) tooth extraction due to his failing post and crown that kept falling out. Inevitably, resulting in a consequent poor prognosis. The plan was to adjust his existing partial denture to fit the gap left by his 11. I felt empathetic for my patient because losing a front tooth is no easy thing to do. And on top of that adjusting to this newly added component is no easy task to bear. But in the end, all that mattered is that this treatment option would solve my patient's disease, comfort, self-esteem and allow him to eat. I never thought this plan would be delayed because of a global pandemic, which would inevitably shut down society as we know it.
When lockdown began that was all I could think about… my poor patient struggling with his failing post and crown.
I wasn't the only one struggling with these negative thoughts.
In a cross-sectional study assessing the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on mental health and wellbeing on adults, the results showed that self-isolating before lockdown, increased feelings of isolation. Additionally, concerns regarding living with COVID-19, was linked with poorer mental health, wellbeing and quality of life.1 This is understandable. Our negative response to a global pandemic is a natural way of responding to a crisis. Adults are more attentive and influenced greater in perceiving negative influences in most psychological domains in comparison to positive information (negative bias).2
Interestingly this study found that perceived increased kindness, community connectedness and being an essential worker were associated with better mental health and wellbeing outcomes1. Kindness is defined as 'the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate'.3 It is something we all need, to rise above the ashes which the flames of COVID-19 have created. It is a very simple act; we as dental professionals can easily follow. It all begins with being kind to yourself.
“Research has studied how individuals felt after performing or observing acts of kindness daily for a week and found that performing these acts for just 7 days can boost happiness”
Self-care is a hot topic in society today, but this new phenomenon has existed before health systems were put in place. Nowadays, self-care is advocated by celebrities and companies consequently leading to the rise of the 'self-care aficionado'. During lockdown, I found that being kind to myself resulted in allowing myself to treat others better with more dignity and respect. This meant that I was more compassionate towards others and this led to me feeling happier. Research has studied how individuals felt after performing or observing acts of kindness daily for a week and found that performing these acts for just seven days can boost happiness.4
So, is this the secret to defeating the challenges we face, as dental professionals and inevitably as individuals, in today's tough society?
With all these virtual Zoom calls, banana bread and mask-covered individuals I can see how it can be hard to practice this philosophy when smiling at someone who isn't recognised behind the mask. However, there are so many ways that the power of positivity can be utilised during these tough times. Through gratitude.
It's a Thanksgiving tradition which the USA has embraced but it's a simple act which can have dramatic positive effects. By being thankful for what we have, can help shift our brain's focus in reaffirming that we are living a good life in spite of our challenges. Gratitude is linked to oxytocin, a well-known 'happy hormone'.5
As fifth years are treating patients, they can reflect on positive experiences which they have encountered when treating patients. For example, through reflecting on what has made them grateful clinically. An example could be being grateful for practising dentistry on patients when so many students in other universities are unable to do. For other years, with mainly online teaching, an example of expressing gratitude is acknowledging the privilege for being able to undertake a university degree. If there were only 100 people in the world, 1 out of that 100 would have a university education.6 To help you, utilise a gratitude journal and write down three things you are grateful for each day.
Following inspirational advice from Sophia Signorini's piece entitled 'Seven reasons why you should volunteer7, I undertook a volunteering opportunity with my dental peers, to deliver a presentation via Zoom on 'Dental health during pregnancy and in infants' to a non-profit organisation Wai-Yin Society.
This experience improved my confidence and purpose. I strongly encourage my peers to volunteer as so many individuals are struggling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and need a little help right now.
As dental students, we are accustomed to being a source of guiding light for our patients. But we never truly realise the impact that we can have on each other. We rely on each other and look to one another in times of need. So, be strong, you never know who you are inspiring.
A. Ahmed, Manchester
White R and Van Der Boor C. Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and initial period of lockdown on the mental health and well-being of adults in the UK. BJPsych Open 2020; 6: 1-4.
Varish A, Grossman T and Woodward A. Not all emotions are created equal: The negativity bias in social-emotional development. Psychological Bulletin 2008; 134: 383-403.
Powered by Oxford, LEXICO. Meaning of kindness in English. Available online at: https://www.lexico.com/definition/kindness (Accessed January 2021).
Rowland L and Curry O. A range of kindness activities boost happiness. J Soc Pyschol 2019; 159: 340-343.
Algoe S and Baldwin M. Evidence for a role of the oxytocin system, indexed by genetic variation in CD38, in the social bonding effects of expressed gratitude. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci 2014; 9: 1855-1861.
University of Southern Maine. Office of International Programs - if the world were a village of 100. Available online at: https://usm.maine.edu/international/if-world-were-village-100-0 (Accessed January 2021).
Signorini, S. Seven reasons why you should volunteer. BDJ Student 2019; 26: 28-29.
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Ahmed, A. Be strong you never know who you are inspiring. BDJ Student 28, 6–7 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41406-021-0217-3