I was recently treating a colleague of mine, Howard Myers, who told me about a paper he had co-written with his sister in 2004, entitled it’s difficult being a dentist: stress and health in the general dental practitioner.
After Howard had left my chair, I thought it would be worth looking up the paper to see whether things had changed in the last decade or so – to see if they’d got better or worse (I’ll withhold my suspicions at this point).
So, In 2004 Howard and his team were very thorough in their study; with a sample size of approximately 2,500 GDPs they collated data based on a number of questionnaires to determine the most common ‘stressors’ in dentistry. Included in the list was running behind schedule – on par with dealing with difficult, uncooperative patients at 68 per cent. Working in the NHS was another common problem as was working under constant time pressures. Lower down the list were staffing issues and financial constraints.
As a result of this degree of stress, respondents also reported physical and mental problems – including minor psychiatric conditions at 30 percent (comparable with GPs). Backache, as ever, was also very high, as was reliance on alcohol.
Howard, based on these findings, recommended the need to address these issues by introducing interventions to combat stress. It was also noted that many of the respondents had downplayed their negative responses (that British stiff upper lip in action again), so the results were probably far worse than detailed on paper.
Reading Howard’s paper reminded me of another article (one more anecdotal than scientific), that appeared in the Guardian in 2000. Seemingly corroborating Howard’s research, this article reported that he stresses of working in the NHS were driving dentists to alcoholism and suicide.
Indeed, dentists have the second highest suicide rate of any profession – coming in just below medical doctors. The research suggests that dentists are 1.67 times more likely to commit suicide compared to someone in an average job – a startling figure. The reasons ranged from unhappy patients transferring their grievances to their practitioner to having to deal with a heightened sense of workplace stress.
Of course, this is all based on research conducted a decade or more ago. If we were to rewrite Howard’s paper today, would we get the same results?