Go to content

Supporting you during declining morale in dentistry

Each year we conduct a survey with GDP members across the UK to understand more about the pressures facing the workforce.

Ella Blog 250X250
Ella Buckland Research Analyst

Our survey data shows that over the last eight years, GDP morale has substantially declined. The proportion of practice owners and associates who rated their morale as either high or very high in 2015 (40%), had halved by 2023, to 20%. Similarly, the proportion of practice owners and associates who would recommend a career as a dentist in 2015 (47%) reduced by over 10 percentage points, to 37% and 36%, respectively in 2023.

I’ve never known stress levels so high and morale so low. The fact is that morale is on a downward trajectory and the perception is nobody is listening and there is no light at the end of the tunnel, that is actually increasing the morale sink.

NHS practice owner


Which factors affect morale the most?

There are several contributing factors to the alarming drop in morale among UK dentists. Our survey highlights the leading causes of stress for practice owners and associates as:

  1. Increased practice costs and patient complaints

For practice owners, increased costs are by far the leading cause of stress. In fact, 91% list this as the highest contributor to the stress they feel. On the other hand, associates report that patient complaints and fear of litigation cause the most stress. Out of all associate respondents, 66% feel stressed about this.

  1. Staffing issues

Both practice owners and associates overall say that problems related to staffing are the second biggest cause of stress. For 78% of practice owners this means concerns regarding recruitment and retention. Meanwhile 64% of associates were stressed about staff shortages or high staff turnover.

  1. Financial concerns and pressures

The third largest strain that practice owners and associates report is financial, with a considerable 70% of all practice owners reporting financial concerns about their practices.

Considering specifically dentists who are not fully private, 66% of practice owners and 57% of associates say they are stressed from financial pressures because of the increasing unviability of NHS and HS dentistry.

(My morale is) at rock bottom. I’ve only had a week's holiday in the last year, and have not taken two weeks off since 2000, because as soon as you do, you get behind on your UDAs and you’ll never catch up again, and I can’t afford the clawback.

NHS practice owner


Other factors causing stress include compliance with government regulations with 65% of practice owners finding this hard. Just over half of all associates surveyed report that a higher number of patients, including  those categorised as “urgent”, is stressful for them. Lack of support and lack of communication from government is another factor that is stressful for 64% of practice owners and 56% of associates.

    4. Hitting NHS targets

This classic source of stress has not gone away, with 62% of practice owners and 49% of associates reporting that this causes additional stress at work.

NHS dentists are exhausted. I think they’re physically and emotionally exhausted because to make a living you have to work like a dog to do it. NHS dentist morale is going through the floor. I think you're going to get some dentists who are going to leave dentistry full stop because of the way things are.



Extreme stress in NHS practices

The proportion of dentists who feel “extremely stressed” or “very stressed” at work is markedly higher in practices with a high NHS commitment* than in practices with a higher private commitment*. The majority of both practice owners and associates with a high NHS commitment* report their stress as having increased in the past year. This equates to a huge 84% of practice owners, and a considerable 60% of associates.

I want quality of life, to be honest, and you can’t get that as an NHS dentist.



If morale remains low, and the proportion wishing to reduce their hours or leave NHS dentistry or the profession as a whole, continues to increase, the recruitment issues within NHS dentistry, and the impacts this then causes such as reduced patient access, will only heighten.

We fight for better pay and conditions for dentists

NHS contracts need urgent fundamental reform rather than small changes, and we are campaigning to ensure that Government takes action as soon as possible to end the targets and treadmills. In recent years there have been significant spending cuts to NHS dentistry, which feeds through into reductions in NHS earnings for dentists, so we work hard to make the case for fair pay and proper funding. We also hold the GDC to account when its approach to regulation fails the profession.

We are here for you

You are doing a job that is invaluable to society, and we are here to support you. We are aware that many of you are facing burnout and a decline in mental health with huge questions about the future of dentistry. If you are living with mental health struggles, there are several support services available.

Health Assured offers confidential counselling support on a range of issues for members. If you need support with your business or contract, our expert advisors provide Extra and Expert members throughout the UK with unlimited one-to-one advice. Call 020 7935 0875 or email the team at [email protected] to get in touch.

Free resources you can access

Dentists in all UK nations can call the Samaritans on Freephone 116 123 for confidential, non-judgemental listening, 24 hours a day.

If you are a dentist based in Northern Ireland experiencing stress, the  General Dental Services (GDS) Assistance Programme which is provided by the social enterprise Inspire offer support.

Scottish-based dentists have access to the National Wellbeing Hub, which offers resources to promote good mental health in your professional and personal life.

NHS dentists in Wales can access mental health support through Canopi including therapy and guided self-help.

*For practice owners: High NHS commitment is ≥75% NHS turnover, and higher private commitment is <75% NHS turnover. For associates high NHS commitment is ≥75% NHS patients, and higher private commitment is <75% NHS patients.

Together we are stronger

Join the BDA

BDA membership offers you the support and services you need throughout your career, whether you are a student, an associate or a practice owner, or working in the community or hospital services.
A dentist wearing navy scrubs smiles at the camera