Fundamentally, I think there are a number of factors missing that have only really started to emerge in the last few years; if we want to try and fully gauge whether dentistry is less or more stressful now, we have to include them in the mix.
For starters, our patient is base is becoming far more demanding. This is mainly due to how informed they are; the expectation for clinical excellence is far higher than ever before. Juxtapose this with a trend for aggressive legal pursuit and we see how litigation against dentists is on the rise.
On top of this, our profession finds itself involved with ever more punitive organisations. The GDC, while nobly trying to protect the public from malpractice, has become steadily more draconian. Dentists are harangued with fitness to practice charges on a regular basis. You simply need to consider the alarming figures: 14 per cent of the profession have already had cases brought against them and the rest of us are now wondering when it will happen to us – not if. The stress associated with these cases can be devastating and its link to suicides has been well documented.
The CQC, too, is becoming increasingly Orwellian, with strict regulations and controls imposed again and again. The cost of complying with these is also becoming more tangible in terms of both time and monetary expense. Our practices are being turned into mini-hospitals and we all have stories of colleagues who have simply given up in the face of such adversity. We’re also finding that our newest colleagues are entering practice in substantial debt, with the heavy weight of student loans bearing down on them at all times. Coupled with the fact that finding an ideal job is becoming increasingly difficult and we see that the stress starts early and only endures.
One of my personal ‘stressors’ is the perpetual media witch-hunt. As a profession, we dentists have never had the shiniest of reputations, but in recent years things have gone from bad to worse. As an endodontist, I am continually incensed by fear mongering headlines, such as 95 per cent of all terminal cancer patients have had root canal treatments and that the correlation between these two things must be somehow medically revelatory. And let’s not forget Cecil the Lion, whose murder got the media painting us all as sadists.
If all this wasn’t enough, we still have to appreciate that dentistry is an intrinsically difficult and competitive profession that requires high levels of skill, patience and experience. It’s a field that dictates long hours and regular complaints from patients – and while it may seem clichéd, it’s still the case that the majority of us genuinely want to help people and provide high standards of care. When we discover we cannot always do so, it can be personally draining.
So is it better or worse now? I believe it’s undeniably worse. Our anxieties have multiplied and we are facing an increasingly dispirited profession. We need help and we need it before the situation worsens further.
References available upon request.
Dr Michael Sultan.