Dentists Underdiagnose When Faced With Time Pressure

Dentistry Today


Dentists can miss important details on x-rays when they’re facing time pressure, according to researchers at the University of Plymouth Peninsula Dental School. The study showed that primary care denitsts missed 67% of bone loss and 40% of tooth decay on a sample of x-rays when given limited time to assess them. 

However, the 40 study participants diagnosed correctly, on average, all of the pathologies related to bone loss and tooth decay correctly when not faced with time pressure. The participants, all from dental practices in and around the southwest of England, rated their stress levels as much higher in the time pressured situation than without the time pressure. 

“I conducted this research as there are no other studies out there evaluating the performance of dentists under time pressure, and it’s a really important issue,” said Anastasios Plessas, DipDS, MSc, academic clinical fellow at the Peninsula Dental School, who led the study in collaboration with the School of Psychology at the University of Plymouth. 

“This work showed a significant deterioration of dentists’ diagnostic performance when examining x-rays under time pressure. Diagnostic errors may put patient safety at risk. Underdiagnosis may lead patients to be needing more complex treatment in the future or even extraction of teeth unnecessarily,” Plessas said. 

“This study shows that we shouldn’t be cutting appointment times in order to fit more people in, but looking at other ways to meet the patients’ needs,” Plessas said.

The study, “Impact of Time Pressure on Dentists’ Diagnostic Performance,” was published by the Journal of Dentistry.

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