Stress in the dental practice

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Dr Tim Bradstock-Smith wonders how dentists cope with work-related stress

Dentistry has long been associated with stress. Yet, there is no easy way to measure it. What one individual may find uncontrollably difficult may be a perfectly reasonable situation to another. However, research conducted by the British Dental Association (BDA) revealed that dentists are at much higher risk of reporting high levels of work-related stress in comparison to British workers more generally [1].

Practitioners work long hours, completing meticulous work often in one position, while in the confines of a small treatment room. They must be constantly aware of time constraints but still have an obligation to maintain clinical excellence and meet the ever-increasing demands and expectations of patients, colleagues and regulatory bodies.

Recently, when the sources of work-related stress in primary care dentists was investigated, the most common were identified as: time constraints or pressure, challenging patients, poor quality management, expectations or lack of support, administrative or other non-clinical responsibilities, workload i.e. too much work, poor work-life balance or long working hours and lastly, staffing problems either due to staff shortages or temporary understaffing due to holidays or sickness. [1]

There is little doubt that providing quality care and treating patients is stressful in itself, yet dentistry attracts people who are extremely conscientious, who apply considerable attention to detail and are committed to the pursuit of perfection. They are dedicated and ambitious, all personality traits that embody a good dentist, however, these characteristics also mean that it is common for dentists to have unrealistic expectations of themselves and unnecessarily high standards which can predispose them to stress, professional burnout, anxiety disorders and clinical depression [2&3]. ,

Over the last decade or so, another issue has also reared its ugly head. Attitudes towards the dental profession have become significantly less forgiving and practitioners are being targeted and attacked by ‘no win, no fee’ type lawyers.
Practitioners now work in fear of being sued and 78 per cent of them indicated that this has caused them stress or anxiety. The industry has seen a stark rise in the claims, in an increasingly litigious environment and although the BDA are currently taking measures to crack down on what they call ‘US-style ambulance chasers’ a high proportion of British dentists are seriously considering their future within the profession [4].

The way in which dentists respond and cope with work-related stress and how much support they are able to call upon when they feel under pressure can determine how that stress impacts on their work and well being. Working in a team, of course, provides a support network and with effective, on going communication at all levels problems can be shared, discussed and often resolved.

Equally, having the support of a reliable referral centre, such as the London Smile Clinic enables practitioners to call upon a team of highly experienced dental professionals that are qualified and equipped to take on complex cases and, are on hand to offer expert advice. This can significantly reduce stress for the general practitioner and also ensures that the practice is well prepared with an organised, streamlined approach to manage all types of treatment pathways.


Dr Tim Bradstock-Smith is principal of the London Smile Clinic, an award-winning centre of excellence in dentistry that is based in Central London. The Clinic offers an extensive range of services, which include specialist orthodontics, implant dentistry and dentures. For more information call 020 7255 2559 or visit 

1] BDA research findings 2014. Sources of Work-related Stress among Salaried Primary Care Dentists in the UK. Click HERE.
2] Rada R.E et al. Stress, burnout, anxiety and depression among dentists. June 2004 JADA Vol 135. [Accessed 14th November 2017]
3] Lang R. Stress in Dentistry – It Could Kill You. 2007. [Accessed 14th November 2017]
4] Stephen Walter. Dentists targeted by ‘no win, no fee’ lawyers as practitioners are twice as likely to be sued than a decade ago. The Telegraph. News. 4th November 2017. [Accessed 14th November 2017]