Dental Tribune America

Survey reveals stress, anxiety and burn-out among UK dentists

By Iveta Ramonaite, DTI
January 22, 2020

LONDON, UK/WASHINGTON, US: Dental Protection, the world’s leading protection organisation for doctors, dentists and healthcare professionals, has recently surveyed the well-being of dentists in the UK and reported increased levels of burn-out in the profession. Since burn-out may affect the dentist’s behaviour, diminish the quality of work and affect those around him or her, Dental Protection called for dental organisations to establish a corresponding role in which a trained professional would recognise burn-out and offer the necessary support and to include well-being as one of the key performance indicators for dental practices.

Dental Tribune International (DTI) has previously reported on a similar survey that revealed dentists’ lack of confidence in the dental profession in the UK. The current survey involved 422 dentists. Half of the respondents (50%) indicated that they have considered leaving the profession for reasons of well-being, the same number (50%) were dissatisfied with their work–life balance, and 60% of the respondents said that they struggled to find the time to take a short break from work.

“Dentistry can be a very rewarding profession—being able to play an important part in the health and quality of life of the public is a privilege and gives a sense of pride. However, when I talk to dentists throughout UK, it is clear that morale is low, and well-being issues are rising up the professional agenda,” said Dr Raj Rattan, dental director at Dental Protection.

According to Rattan, burn-out may compromise the quality of care provided for the patients or even result in dentists providing substandard care at work. Additionally, it can make them less empathic and hinder their cognitive performance, which, in turn, may have a negative impact on colleagues, teams and the organisation as a whole.

Commenting on the recent survey, British Dental Association (BDA) Chair Dr Mick Armstrong told Dental Tribune International: “The BDA’s research consistently shows that a climate of fear is pushing dentists to the edge—they are concerned about patient complaints, a more litigious culture and an overbearing regulator. These, together with a 30% decline in earnings and an NHS system of unforgiving targets, are pushing talented colleagues out, leaving practices struggling to fill vacancies as more older dentists express a desire to retire early and younger ones take up private dentistry or quit the profession altogether.”

According to Armstrong, the dental community has been providing continuous support for dentists under stress, and there are currently three times as many support services for dentists as there were a decade ago. These include the NHS Practitioner Health Programme, the Probing Stress in Dentistry project in Northern Ireland, the BDA Benevolent Fund and the recently established 24/7 mental health support service for dentists and doctors working in the NHS.

“These are welcome steps, but, as we recommend to patients, prevention is better than cure.  We have been warning government for years that its failure to address the profession’s concerns and treatment of oral health as an afterthought would lead to a crisis in recruiting and retaining dentists. The government and regulators have it in their gift to tackle the causes of the stress-based crisis in dentistry. If not, everyone loses out, the profession and the public. It would be truly unfortunate if they choose to deny the opportunity they have to keep Britain smiling,” Armstrong concluded.

Studies on the prevalence of burn-out among dentists in the US are limited. The most recent survey, conducted in 2017, involved 167 US dentists and showed a burn-out rate of 13.2%. Although British counterparts were recently found to be dissatisfied with their work–life balance or felt overworked, DTI has recently reported on a ranking of professions that placed dentists in the US at No. 2 after considering factors such as median salary, unemployment rate, projected ten-year growth volume, projected ten-year growth percentage, future job prospects, stress level and work–life balance. Despite the lower rates of burn-out in the country, the American Dental Association Practice Institute has recently addressed the issue and it held its first conference on battling burn-out in dentistry last year.

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