top of page

Mental and Dental Health

By Trisha In, ASDOH Class of 2023

Notes from Dr. Harn’s lecture at the National Leadership Conference

Imagine being born with three missing fingers and trying to enter the male- dominated field of dentistry in the 1970s. That is precisely what Dr. Kimberly Harms did, and she and her husband were able to open up a dental practice together in 1986. As their careers took off, some unfortunate circumstances arose: Dr. Harms experienced problems in her lower back, requiring surgery, and her husband was diagnosed with liver cancer. Then the unimaginable happened: her son, an engineering student at Columbia University, had taken his own life.

Dr. Harms emphasizes that most dentists are aware of the ergonomic problems and physical limitations of their work, but oftentimes forget the emotional aspect of it. These types of life events can render debilitating effects and prevent a dentist from practicing. This is what happened with Dr. Harms and her husband—the heartbreak from the death of their son, along with their own ailments, prevented them from working for a month. With that being said, coping with these life events and conflict in the workplace is something that Dr. Harms knows about all too well. In her “Effective Communication Strategies for Difficult Conversations” lecture, she lists some barriers to difficult conversations, which include passive-aggressive behavior, cognitive dissonance, systemic distrust, grief / loss / fear, and gender / cultural / generational. Although she offered many types of solutions dealing with difficult situations, the one that interested me the most was how we can help those who are hurting. Dr. Harms, on top of her own familial circumstances, also had an assistant who lost her son to suicide. She emphasizes six main points:

Try not to fix things that are beyond your control. Help those who are hurting feel understood and valued. Have cards or small gifts available.Assist those close to you with food or routine tasks such as childcare, cleaning, or lawn work. Understanding the team member that may need extra help and provide them support.Prepare for unexpected meltdowns (because they will happen!).

Dr. Harms’ lecture really stuck with me because of how open she was about the importance of mental health, even admitting that the loss of her son shook her entire world. Dentistry often times requires us to be cheerful and focused, but it’s also imperative that we look after ourselves as well. After all, your own cup needs to be full in order for it to trickle into the lives of others.

3 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page