Dentists' health and wellbeing: sources of support

Dento-legal concerns can be extremely stressful for dental professionals at every level, but there are lots of places you can turn to for help if you need it.

As a GDC registrant you must put patients' interests first. But to do this as effectively as possible, you need to focus on your own health and wellbeing.

  • If you know or suspect your judgement or performance could be affected by your health, you must consult a suitably-qualified colleague (such as your GP, occupational health doctor or psychiatrist) and make any changes to your practice they advise.
  • Don't self-prescribe to alleviate symptoms such as exhaustion or anxiety, as this can be unsafe and is contrary to GDC guidance. Instead, get objective medical advice.
  • Speak to your colleagues and seek their support. They may be able to help reduce the pressures you're facing at work.
  • Seek help early if there has been a clinical incident or the GDC is involved.

Many dental professionals spend most of their working lives in a small room with patients who can sometimes be apprehensive or fearful. Providing treatment within the confines of the oral cavity means the work is intricate, and as skilled professionals we often strive for perfection. When economic and time pressures are added to this mix, stress and fatigue can easily bubble up to the surface.

Dental professionals might be reluctant to seek help, but we should not be afraid to get support when we need it. You don't have to 'just get on with it', and recognising our limitations is important to practice safely.

Seeking help

A GP can give objective advice about how to prevent and manage any health concerns you might have. You might also have access to an occupational health service.

Dental professionals should be able to understand the strain other members of the team are under. They may be in a position to offer help, relieve the pressure and listen and respond to concerns. They may also be able to spot if your health is beginning to affect your performance. Be ready and willing to accept help that is offered.

The GDC and dental professionals' health

Dental professionals who are unwell may come to the attention of the GDC if their practice is affected - for example, if there has been a complaint. No registrant wants to end up under GDC scrutiny, so it's vital to seek help when it's needed to hopefully prevent the situation reaching that point.

As well as this, GDC investigations into matters that aren't health related can be stressful and might also impact on your wellbeing.

In our experience, the GDC is sympathetic towards registrants with health problems providing they co-operate with health assessments and shows insight. With carefully designed voluntary undertakings or more formal conditions to ensure the dental professional has the supervision and support necessary for them to practice safely, many people with health problems affecting their fitness to practice will be able to continue working.

Sources of support

The DDU has a 24-hour dento-legal helpline for members to speak to our expert advisers, who are dentists themselves. As well as the assistance they can give in the course of helping members with a complaint or a claim, there are a number of other organisations and bodies dental professionals can turn to in times of need.

The list we have compiled below is not exhaustive and includes some national organisations, but remember that local support is also available in the form of your own GP, Local Dental Committee (LDC) and local occupational health arrangements.

Sources of help for dentists

Local Dental Committee (LDC). If you're concerned about your performance, you could consider seeking help from your LDC. Some of these operate a practitioner advice and support scheme (PASS), which practitioners can approach for free and confidential support.

NHS Practitioner Health Programme

NHS Practitioner Health Programme in Wales

Occupational health services. Local arrangements should be in place for NHS GDPs and employed dentists. The LDC or employing organisation, respectively, should be able to provide a signpost to these services.

British Doctors & Dentists Group. A recovery group for doctors and dentists addicted to alcohol and/or drugs.

Dentists Health Support Programme

The DHST helpline

Wellbeing support for the dental team - UK wide resource

Sources of help for dental care professionals

British Association of Dental Nurses

The British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy

National organisations available to everyone

Samaritans. A charity dedicated to reducing feelings of isolation and disconnection that can lead to suicide. Open 24 hours a day.

Scotland: National Wellbeing Hub. General resource for all healthcare workers.

SAMH for Scotland's mental health. Coronavirus mental health information hub.

Narcotics anonymous. A non-profit fellowship or society of men and women for whom drugs have become a major problem.

Cocaine Anonymous. A fellowship of recovering addicts who maintain their individual sobriety by working with others.

Alcoholics Anonymous. A fellowship concerned with the personal recovery and continued sobriety of individual alcoholics who turn to the fellowship for help.

This page was correct at publication on 29/10/2021. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.