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Is the issue of stress in dentistry finally being taken seriously?

Blog Author Roz McMullan

Blog Date 05/11/2019

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Photo credit: Getty Images
Seeing far too many cases first-hand of colleagues and friends, suffering from high levels of stress, and witnessing the impact on their professional and personal lives, tackling the causes of stress and supporting dentists to ensure well-being is one area I am passionate about. 

Anxiety, stress and burnout are prevalent within dentistry today, with recent figures showing 68% of general dental practice owners and 47% of community dentists reporting their morale as low or very low. A 2019 BDJ article has further indicated the high levels of stress in dentists across the UK. 

So, I was really thrilled to hear the news that the Department of Health in England has finally extended access for all NHS dentists in England to their comprehensive NHS Practitioner Health Support Programme - finally actioning Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock’s words, “NHS for the NHS”.

Valuing and supporting the NHS workforce must be a priority for Government, especially now when it is under such pressure. Our medical colleagues have had access to this service for many years, which offers a free helpline, counselling, and support from experts who have the knowledge and training to understand and help those who are working under the pressures of the NHS system. I urge anyone in England who is finding it hard to cope or feels that things are getting on top of them, to contact them asap – find out how on their website. 

What support can dentists in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales access?

Across the UK, the levels of support and access to services to help NHS/Health Service dentists cope with stress has been patchy.

In Northern Ireland, I campaigned to get the ‘Probing Stress in Dentistry’ project off the ground in 2016, which is a collaborative project, featuring a multi-agency group of dental and health professionals, working to raise awareness of the real issue of stress in the dental profession, and we have been lobbying to improve the support for dentists experiencing stress. 

Dentists working in Northern Ireland have had access to Trust Occupational Health services for some years, and I was delighted when the Northern Ireland Health Board recently announced that access to Inspire, a telephone counselling service, has been extended to GDPs, as it was previously only accessible to dental Trust employees, working in the Community Dental and the Hospital Dental Services. 

BDA Scotland and the Scottish Dental Practice Committee in 2018 also made great strides in getting access to the NHS Occupational Health Advice and Guidance Service for dentists and their teams working in Scotland in June last year, this service offers support to those experiencing stress, delivered through the NHS Boards.

There is currently no comparable support from Government for mental health well-being in dentists in Wales, and BDA Wales and representatives from our Committees are speaking to Assembly Members, Health Boards and Government to establish what support is already accessible and identify any gaps. 

Signposting support services for all dentists

On a national level, the BDA also offers resources and support to tackle stress for our members– we’ve recently partnered with Health Assured, to offer BDA members (including student members) access to a 24-7 comprehensive and confidential counselling service – find out more on our website

Other organisations, such as the Dentists Health Support Programme work tirelessly across the UK supporting dentists who are experiencing mood and addiction disorders while the BDA Benevolent Fund supports dentists and their families who find themselves in debt. 

The dentist, nutritional therapist and stress management coach, Hina Patel is running a one-day course in January 2020 at the BDA in London on ‘Stress management and well-being for a healthy dental team’, to help attendees understand and recognise the early signs of stress and its short and long-term effects on the body and mind. She also offers some top tips on dealing with stress in her recent blog. 

With stress, prevention is better than cure. While the system all NHS/Health Service dentists are working under remains target-driven rather than care-driven - and frankly, in my view remains broken - we are sadly only applying a sticking plaster rather than treating the disease. 

However, I also believe it’s everyone’s responsibility to look after their own mental health and well-being, as well as of those around us. Please reach out if you feel you need help. The dental family will support you.

Roz McMullan, BDA President

If you are in crisis, please contact:
  • Samaritans: Freephone 116123
  • Lifeline (NI): Freephone 0808 808 8000