According to a September survey of 497 dental professionals by Dental Protection, 45% of dentists in the United Kingdom feel their well-being is worse compared to the start of the pandemic, and 48% say they feel pessimistic about the future.
Also, 60% said that concern for the health of their family and friends was the main factor affecting their mental well-being, and 58% cited loss of income and financial worries. Half of the respondents, 50%, said adapting to new policies and guidance including restrictions on appointments was having the most impact on their mental well-being.
A third, 33%, said they had experienced verbal or physical abuse from patients or from patients’ relatives, largely because they weren’t able to offer an appointment soon enough. A further 5% said they had experienced verbal abuse outside of the surgery.
The survey gathered anonymous comments from participating dentists.
“People are very angry in general, short tempered and impatient. They lack understanding of the protocols were have to follow. It is very draining,” one dentist said.
“I often receive verbal abuse in nearby shops from irate patients,” another said.
“I am routinely verbally abused when unable to offer out of hours treatment to other practice patients who are still not open, or from patients not registered with any practice,” said a third.
“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, 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,” said Raj Rattan, dental director at Dental Protection.
“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 said.
“Dentists continue to care for their patients and provide high-quality treatment in these difficult times. However, many patients have had their care and treatment delayed, and not all are equally understanding of the circumstances,” said Rattan.
“We are starting to hear about patient complaints and, as shown in our survey, some patients are expressing their anger more directly towards dentists and the team. Their zone of tolerance may of course be exacerbated if they are in pain or discomfort,” he said.
“Such delays frustrate and create stress for clinicians who may feel they cannot act in their patients’ best interests for reasons beyond their control. This presents yet another source of anxiety for dentists at a time when many have expressed concerns about their mental well-being,” Rattan said.
Overall, the top 10 factors that dentists in the United Kingdom say are impacting their mental well-being include:
- 60%: Concern for the health of their family and friends
- 58%: Loss of income and financial worries
- 50%: Adapting to new ways of working, including new policies, guidance, restrictions, and PPE
- 47%: Fear of further waves of COVID-19
- 47%: Backlog of work, such as referrals
- 44%: Concern for the health of patients
- 41%: Concern for their own health
- 40%: Fear of investigations or claims arising from difficult decisions made during the pandemic or disruption to care
- 34%: Low morale at work
- 33%: Adhering to social distancing and other COVID-19 safety measures