Eric Easson says it is crucial that dentists prioritise their own health as well as the health of their patients.

Dentistry is often a rewarding profession, treating patients and helping them to improve their oral health. However, it is becoming an increasingly demanding career path and there are often times when being a dentist can be difficult and often stressful.

Unfortunately, it seems that stress levels are on the increase, with complaints and claims rising, higher patient expectations, larger amounts of information to absorb and the duty to respond and cooperate with Gemneral Dental Council (GDC) investigations. While responding to complaints and investigations are part and parcel of being a dental professional, they can be the source of significant personal stress.

During such times, it is paramount that dentists look after themselves in the same way they would care for patients. Of course, this is often easier said than done and even the most resilient individual can struggle to cope if they are undergoing a particularly stressful experience.

GDC investigations

In 2014, the British Dental Association found that 39% of community dentists and almost half of GDPs had reported high levels of stress. This was supported by a DDU survey of 187 dental professionals who had faced a GDC investigation or negligence claim in the previous five years. The DDU found that:

  • 59% worry about being sued or complained about again
  • 157 of 187 respondents were surprised to be sued or complained about
  • Just under a third of respondents (59) said the experience meant they no longer trusted patients or treated them differently
  • 14% suffered health problems following the complaint or claim
  • 28% have either considered leaving the profession or have actually stopped working
  • In 80% of cases (153) the process had lasted less than two years to complete but in 16% of cases (31) it was three to five years. Four dental professionals said their case took more than five years to resolve
  • Six respondents said their colleagues didn’t support them.

Some advice

At the DDU, we support thousands of members with responding to complaints and investigations every year. We can tell you what to expect and the process that will be followed, which can remove some of the fear of the unknown. We can also help you to plan your response with the assistance and support of a dentolegal adviser. Indeed, advisers are often asked by members what they can do to reduce the impact of an investigation on both their professional and personal lives. My colleagues and I advise the following:

  • Discuss your concerns and complaints with colleagues. This is an important part of reflecting on performance and reviewing patient feedback. Not only will they understand the additional pressure that an investigation places on you but they can help you to identify learning points that can be shared with a wider group, if appropriate. They can also help you to keep things in perspective, for example, by giving you positive feedback when things go well. Your colleagues may also be able to spot if the stress of the situation is beginning to affect your performance and you should be willing to listen and respond to their concerns
  • Get support from family and friends. Although patient confidentiality places limits on the information you can share, family and friends are an invaluable source of support. Some dental professionals want to protect those close to them from worry, but the stresses that you are dealing with in work frequently spill over into your personal life, so it’s best to share your concerns
  • Make sure you are registered with a GP. As a profession, we are not always very good at recognising the need to seek medical help ourselves. But it’s important to talk to your GP about the pressures you are under. They can provide you with some objective advice and refer you for further support if necessary
  • Be aware of other sources of support such as The British Doctors and Dentists Group, The Dentists’ Health Support Programme and The Health and Safety Executive, which have information on work related stress issues.

For more information visit www.theddu.com.