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LONDON, UK: There is a growing body of evidence indicating declining well-being among dentists worldwide. This was confirmed by a recent survey conducted by Dental Protection which found that half of the UK dentists who participated in the study were experiencing difficulty in coping with the uncertainty brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and that they had adopted negative mental attitudes towards the future.
The survey included approximately 500 dental professionals, 60% of whom stated that they were greatly concerned for the health of their family and that this, in turn, had affected their mental well-being. Additionally, 58% of the participants were worried about their loss of earnings, and half of the respondents found it difficult to adapt to new policies and updated guidance on infection prevention and control, including the existing restrictions on dental appointments.
The results have revealed another emerging problem: patients’ aggression towards dentists. The findings may indicate that patients are frustrated with deferred appointments and lengthy waiting times for scheduling new appointments, and the survey reported that 33% of the dentists had experienced verbal or physical abuse from patients or patients’ relatives. A further 5% of the participants said that they had also experienced verbal abuse outside of the surgery.
“People are very angry in general, short-tempered and impatient. They lack understanding of the protocols we have to follow. It is very draining,” one of the participants commented.
One of the dentists also stated that he often received verbal abuse in nearby shops from upset patients. Another reported routine verbal abuse from patients of practices not yet open who demanded out-of-hours treatment and from patients not registered with any practice.
“Dental professionals have faced a range of challenges throughout this pandemic, and many have returned to practice in equally challenging circumstances”
— Dr Raj Rattan, Dental Protection
Commenting on the issue, Dental Director at Dental Protection Dr Raj Rattan noted: “Dental professionals have faced a range of challenges throughout this pandemic, and many have returned to practice in equally challenging circumstances—working in different ways, adapting to additional PPE [personal protective equipment], worrying about their health and that of their families, staff and patients, and facing a backlog of patients with outstanding treatment due to the unavoidable delays in recent months.”
“Many dentists have also expressed their frustration about guidance which they believe is unsupported by a strong evidence base. In particular, they have commented that guidelines are not always easy to decipher and adhere to and are having an adverse impact on the operating capacity of the practices. The design, capacity and internal configurations have meant that some practices have been more impacted than others.”
Rattan stated that the organisation has recently started hearing about patient complaints and that the survey has helped to highlight patient anger towards dentists and the dental team. According to him, appointment deferrals have only made matters worse, since patients who are in pain or discomfort may grow less tolerant of uncertainty. However, Rattan noted that delays in appointments also frustrate clinicians who do not have the power to help their patients, as they have to follow certain regulations.
Rattan encouraged members who are experiencing stress related to work to use the free counselling service offered by Dental Protection. Other resources to promote well-being, including apps, podcasts and webinars, can be found at www.dentalprotection.org/uk/wellbeing.
Editorial note: Dental Tribune International has recently published two articles on the topic. The first one discussed dental professionals’ mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, whereas the second one offered guidance on lightening the load of COVID-19 and associated stress factors in the dental office.
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