Dentists have represented quite a small proportion of the patients seen at Practitioner Health over the past decade. 75% of dental practitioners were working at presentation.
Dentists have higher rates of substance misuse than most specialties, often related (as with anaesthetists) to their easy access to drugs. They are also more likely to suffer from stress-related problems than the general population and, like other medical professionals show twice the suicide rate of the general population.
High rates of mental illness in dental professionals are thought to be due to a combination of the following factors:
- Confinement – most dentists spend most of their working life in a small room seeing patients. This means their day-to-day routine doesn’t involve much physical activity – work is intricate and meticulous, performed in a restricted oral space. Whilst procedures can be mentally and physically taxing, back troubles and fatigue are common as a result. This type of work can also lead to lack of exercise which is a factor in itself.
- Isolation – most dentists work alone or in a small practice. This therefore means they don’t have the opportunity to share and solve problems with their colleagues the way other professionals groups are able to via peer support.
- Competition – a sense of competition that starts in dental school tends to continue into dental practice
- Perfectionism – as with doctors, a sense of perfectionism is often instilled in dental school (or medical school). This is difficult to maintain, however as dentistry is an imperfect science.
- Economic pressure – due to high training costs and the costs of establishing a practice.
- Time pressures – as with medical practice, a sense of pressure as dentists feel they never have enough time with the patient and the feeling of always running late
- Compromising treatment due to financial constraints – whilst dentists learn the ‘ideal’ treatment for their patients during training, this is often not possible as the money available from NHS or private patients does not allow for this. This results in the dentist having to compromise treatment options and can lead to frustration as they are unable to reach his or her treatment goals.
- Personality – certain traits (the same as in medical doctors) that characterise a good practitioner are also those which can predispose to mid-life depression, drug and alcohol abuse. These include: compulsive attention to detail, extreme conscientiousness, careful control of emotions, unrealistic expectations of self and others (i.e. employees and patients), a marked dependence on individual performance and prestige.
- Patient anxiety – the psychological stress of working with apprehensive and fearful patients can be very difficult.