MENTAL health has been defined by the WHO as “a state of wellbeing in which every individual realises their own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to their community”.
We are all aware that dentistry is a stressful profession, as evidenced by numerous studies, including one published recently in the BDJ. In this study led by researchers from King’s College London, particular variables were identified on micro, meso and macro levels, including the working environment of the individual clinician, their role in the dental team, and the healthcare system and dental regulation.
The last 18 months have brought an entirely new definition of “normal” and therefore, according to the definition above, “normal stresses” have been almost anything but normal when working in dental practice.
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought constant changes in protocols, the challenges of donning and doffing PPE, interruption to dental education and training, and heightened anxiety among both patients and the dental team.
Getting back to “normal”
As restrictions have been lifted, different challenges have emerged as we seek to tackle the backlog of patients and delays in primary and secondary care. These together with the daily challenges of dental practice have put the wellbeing of dental teams further under threat. The situation in Scotland was recently highlighted and there have been several articles that have explored this in different sectors of dental care in various regions of the UK (see further reading below).
Concerns about the health of our family and friends have been acute, with Covid-19 cases recently back on the rise. Managing self-isolation both in relation to ourselves and family members, with the attendant effects on workload and targets, is something that is particularly close to home.
Trying to manage my own workload, while figuring out how to safely feed my family and make sure that their worries about missing school and their friends do not become overwhelming after the lockdowns, as well as fitting in yet another PCR test, has been a less-than-enjoyable personal challenge in recent weeks.
There have been positives in that the recent challenges have encouraged greater collaboration between practices, and the use of remote consultations in relation to triage has progressed the way that we treat patients. Many dentists have taken the opportunity to work in other areas, such as vaccination, and have taken on frontline roles in other areas of healthcare during the pandemic, allowing further integration with our colleagues.
There has been reassurance from the General Dental Council (GDC) that the unique circumstances of practising during the pandemic will be taken into account when considering decisions that had to be made under the challenging conditions.
Concerns about complaints, claims and GDC referrals continue to loom large in every dentist’s mind. A rapid evidence assessment with respect to mental health and wellbeing in dentistry was commissioned and published by the GDC in June 2021. This looked at mental health in students, DCPs and dentists. Unsurprisingly, the threat of complaints and litigation and concern about a referral to the GDC were identified as the highest stressors in dental practice.
MDDUS dental advisers are there at the end of the phone and via our website to provide empathic, non-judgemental advice and to listen to your concerns.
Free, confidential support
Poorer mental health and wellbeing is likely to lead to more mistakes and defensive dentistry, as it raises the possibility of fatigue and reduced concentration. It is vital that dental professionals are able to identify when our own mental health is compromised and seek help. The GDC Focus on Standards (Principle Nine) makes it clear that we must take prompt and appropriate action if we believe that patients may be at risk because of our health, behaviour or professional performance.
The mental health of our members is a priority at MDDUS and we have introduced a new service to support your wellbeing. YourHalo is a confidential, free support service available to MDDUS members, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is a holistic and evidence-based approach to managing your emotional wellbeing and is tailored to healthcare professionals. Our member wellbeing and mental health web page also signposts to other resources that are available.
- Mahendran, K., Patel, S. & Sproat, C. Psychosocial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on staff in a dental teaching hospital. Br Dent J 229, 127–132 (2020)
- Plessas, A., Paisi, M., Baines, R. et al. Frontline experiences and perceptions of Urgent Dental Care centre staff in England during the COVID-19 pandemic: a qualitative study. Br Dent J (2021)
- Sandhu, B., Blanchard, J. & Koshal, S. COVID-19 - the impact on wellbeing of the dental team in a secondary care urgent dental hub. Br Dent J (2021)
- Owen, C. The mental health of Welsh dentists during the pandemic. Br Dent J 230, 500 (2021)