Dental professionals turn to coping mechanisms to deal with intense workplace pressures, DDU survey finds

More than eight in 10 dental professionals say that workplace pressures have increased in the past two to three years.

More than eight in 10 (86%) dental professionals say that workplace pressures have increased in the past two to three years, a new Dental Defence Union (DDU) survey has revealed. Dental professionals are turning to coping mechanisms like mindfulness, breathing exercises and breaks in the fresh air to cope.

The DDU survey of 495 dental professionals also found nearly four in 10 (39%) said they were likely to retire or leave practice in the next five years. Half (52%) said they had reduced their hours to cope with workplace pressures.

John Makin, head of the DDU, said:

"Our members are a resilient bunch. They're used to dealing with the extreme demands of their roles. However, you can only stretch a piece of elastic so far. Pressures are intensifying, caused by a number of issues outside of dental professionals' control. These include an increase in treatment needs caused by the pandemic, rising patient expectations and treatment and referral delays.

"We are calling on the government to put the necessary resources and support in place to reduce delays and meet treatment demand. This will help to reduce the stress being experienced by dental professionals. It will also help them to treat patients safely and to a good standard."

Other findings from the research were:

  • Three in 10 respondents (31%) said they used mindfulness and breathing exercises as a coping strategy, while six in 10 (65%) said they took a break by exercising in the fresh air.
  • Six in 10 dental professionals (60%) said relationships with patients and colleagues had become more strained over the past two or three years.
  • Nine in 10 (91%) said they felt worn out at the end of a working day and eight in 10 (84%) said they felt burned out.
  • A fifth (20%) had experienced a patient complaint or safety incident and a similar proportion had been abused or threatened (19%).
  • Despite this, nearly all respondents (93%) said patients and colleagues treated them with respect.

What dental professionals told us

  1. "Workplace pressures should never be a factor in whether we can treat our patients safely, yet these pressures are increasingly placing barriers in the day-to-day work of dentists around the country." – dental professional
  2. "As we couldn't see patients for routine appointments [during the pandemic] they've gone from having stable teeth pre pandemic to having multiple problems needing treatment or extraction. Understandably some patients are shocked and upset about this and blame us for it. It means that patients who previously were stable now need lots of treatments further adding to the backlog." - dental professional
  3. "I use mindfulness in everyday situations to help me be fully aware of where I am and what I'm doing without becoming overwhelmed or overreacting to stressful situations. I use breathing techniques and mindfulness apps. The techniques help me to avoid worrying about things that may or may not happen." - Catherine Hemingway, dentist
  4. "I try to ensure I give myself breaks during the day and avoid the temptation to book patients during lunch breaks or after work. I aim to take a break every couple of hours, take some deep breaths and have a stroll. As clinicians, we can find it difficult to turn off, but I try to do something totally different when I’m not working." - Andrew Chandrapal, dental practice principal and DDU council member
  5. "One of Covid's legacies is my willingness to diversify my working practices to cope with pressures. I now work part time as a DDU dento-legal adviser alongside my clinical and training roles. I think it’s important to allow yourself time to decompress after a stressful working day. I get plenty of fresh air and exercise through coaching an under 16s rugby team in my spare time.” - James Kingham, general dental practitioner and training programme director for Health Education England
  6. "I like to get out of at lunch time for a 20min walk. That change in air and space combined with a brisk walk (and sometimes a podcast) powers me up for the afternoon. In summer, I enjoy an evening walk to relieve the day’s stresses. Having an informal chat to colleagues helps. My colleagues are a friendly, sociable group with lots of positive ideas and sensible suggestions. Getting a good night's sleep fires me up for another day." - Tom Norfolk, general dental practitioner and DDU vice chairman

Wellbeing resources are available for DDU members signposting them of where they can get help.

The DDU surveyed a sample of dental professionals (495) in December 2022 and received a 6% response rate. Respondents included: GDPs (55%), dental hygienist/therapists (21%), newly qualified dentists (6%), community dentists (6%), hospital dentists (6%) and dental nurses (5%).

This page was correct at publication on 30/01/2023. 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.