Dental student practicing. 

A review led by the University of Plymouth has shown that dentists suffer an increased level of stress and burnout – but not enough is known about their colleagues in the wider dental team.

Written in collaboration with the University of Southampton, the rapid evidence assessment analysed research from the last 14 years on mental health in dental professionals.

The review was commissioned by the General Dental Council to better understand the extent to which dental professionals experience mental health problems and the conditions that contribute to mental and emotional distress.

The work concluded that dentists suffer an increased level of stress and burnout, particularly general dental practitioners, with litigation and regulation the main stressors. It also noted an increase in the number of dentists showing signs of burnout over the 14-year period.

However, the review showed there is little or no research on the wellbeing of dental care professionals, such as dental nurses, dental hygienists and dental therapists.

The review also showed a lack of research or evaluation on mental health support interventions with dental professionals in mind – and lead author, Anastasios Plessas from Peninsula Dental School at the University of Plymouth, hoped that the review would inspire more work in the area.

Lead author, Anastasios Plessas, said: 

“Conducting a review means that you find and analyse the research that already exists, and the truth is that there isn’t enough evidence around mental health in dental professionals, or whether certain interventions work. We also note the need to test bespoke interventions that recognised the range of settings and system-related issues in dentistry.
“Some of the studies that we found suggested that poor mental health may lead to practitioners being less clinically confident and potentially impact treatment decisions. However, further empirical studies need to happen before anyone can know if and how poor mental health and wellbeing impacts on dental teams’ performance and patient safety.
“Mental health is higher on our society’s agenda than ever before, so we hope the review’s findings will prompt further studies into mental health and the interventions that can help.”

Anastasios Plessas

The review asked three main questions:

  • What is the prevalence of mental health issues in the dental team and dental students in the UK and how has it changed over the last 14 years?
  • What preventative and intervention techniques to tackle mental health issues have been used and evaluated in dental teams and students in highly developed countries?
  • And what preventative and intervention techniques have been used and evaluated to tackle mental health issues in other healthcare professionals in the UK?

Roz McMullan, Co-Chair of the Mental Health Wellness in Dentistry Working Group and Past President of the British Dental Association, said: 

“Mental health has long been the Cinderella specialty in medicine, and sadly so has mental health research. This review highlights the need for robust, UK-wide longitudinal studies, looking at all members of the dental team in all settings, so we can identify vulnerable populations, the relevant stressors, the interventions that work for dental professionals, and understand the factors that impact the ability of dental team members to recover from stress and poor mental health. 

“There is no better time than now for all dental workplaces to put mental health wellness at the centre of their systems and policies. Many workplaces and general dental practices already offer a supportive environment for their team members. This can now be formalised using the Framework developed by the Mental Health Wellness in Dentistry Working Group.”

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