Dentists Skipping Lunch: Admirable or Unwise?

  • by Zeynep Barakat, DMD, FAGD, DMD, FAGD
  • Aug 6, 2018, 08:00 AM

At a study club meeting the other night, I began chatting with other dentists during dinner before the lecture. We discussed our days at the office. One dentist mentioned that he didn’t take a lunch and that this was his first time eating since breakfast. I looked down at my watch; it was 6:30 p.m. 

We began sharing stories of our eating habits and what happens when patient care interferes with lunchtime. One dentist had no problem skipping lunch, and I know a colleague who can go a whole day without eating. I know another who won’t schedule a formal lunch hour either for herself or her staff. Having been through a residency that required patient care at odd morning hours (or at night — the pager went off at the oddest times) — not to mention driving to a hospital to care for patients in the ER — I know well how sacrificing sleep and food affects a practitioner. Not eating for seven or eight hours while practicing precision dentistry nonstop is an incredible feat. But is it wise?

Medicine has grappled with the issue of sleepless residents for a long time. Can medical residents be sharp and error-free without sleep? I’m not sure the profession has found the answer. But it’s common knowledge that driving without adequate sleep is equivalent to driving under the influence of alcohol, and plenty of research supports that fact. And, yet, many of us have driven while sleep-deprived at some point in our lives. It’s a given during residency — and when you’re a parent. 

As far as working without eating, I know operating surgeons can go many hours without eating, relying on their adrenaline to sustain them. Some might leave the operating room for a quick snack or to rehydrate before rotating back in with other surgeons. Like surgeons, we dentists can lean on others when we need help. Unlike surgeons, solo dental practitioners do not have the option of rotating with one another. We do, however, have the ability to customize our days to accommodate patients and our own needs. We all know how concentration, performance and precision depend on rest, sleep and food. We should also know ourselves well enough to recognize at what point sacrificing one of these things might become an issue.

I applaud my colleagues who go a whole day with no food, but I cannot go beyond three hours without a small energizing snack between patients. I learned my limits a long time ago. Have you?

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