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Dentists face challenging environment

Mental health survey reveals high stress levels.

In September, we launched a survey to once again check in on the mental health of dentists in Wales. Rather than showing any improvement in the reported mental health of respondents, this has once again revealed the high stress levels and difficult working conditions faced by dentists in Wales. Here we outline the challenges being faced and the likely long-term impacts.

Stress levels remain high

We asked Welsh dentists how stressful they had found the last six months working through the pandemic. Worryingly, almost half of you had found the last six months had been extremely stressful. Many described facing burnout.

A whopping 83.1% of respondents reported they had gone to work despite not feeling mentally well enough over the past six months. Almost half had done so for more than ten days.

Over a quarter of respondents were drinking more alcohol in the last six months, and the use of prescribed or over the counter drugs or natural substances that are mood enhancers had doubled since the last survey.

63.4% of respondents say they are sleeping badly or very badly. 70.6% tell us they are losing at least an hour of sleep per night over the last six months.

Difficult working conditions

Dentists also report that breaks have been more difficult to take. 13.7% of respondents were able to take breaks often in January 2021, while just 8% have been able to over the last six months. Lunch breaks have also decreased in the last six months, with only 50% often being able to take a half an hour lunch break.

Respondents were asked how they had found working in advanced PPE, particularly in the hot weather. The most commonly used words in responses include: terrible, uncomfortable, unbearable, horrible, tiring and exhausting.

Concerns for patient backlog remains high, with 75% very concerned. One respondent shared that they had never needed a waiting list before, now it is 300 patients long. Abuse from patients is a problem, with 82.1% of respondents stating they had experienced rude or abusive behaviour from patients in the last six months. Much of this abuse was aimed at staff or nurses.

Looking ahead

It's difficult to know what impact the pandemic will have on the profession in the long term. However, some clear trends are emerging from your feedback.

The pandemic had led 70.5% of respondents of all ages to rethink their career in dentistry. Over half of respondents stated they were considering early retirement. Almost two thirds of respondents planned to reduce the proportion of NHS dentistry performed in the next three years.

This paints a highly concerning picture of dentists disillusioned with dentistry and particularly NHS dentistry.

Thank you to all who participated in this survey. We will present these findings to the Welsh Government's Dental Committee in early 2022, making a strong case for support to dentists and dentistry.