A free online resource focusing on the mental health and wellbeing of Australian dental practitioners has just launched as new research highlights the significant mental health burden many are experiencing.
Australian dental practitioners appear to be at high risk of burnout, which may impact on their health and wellbeing and their ability to deliver patient care, with one in four practitioners experiencing symptoms consistent with burnout, a new survey of close to 1500 Australian practitioners has found.
Published in the Journal of Public Health Dentistry, the study by researchers from the University of Melbourne, the University of Queensland, the University of New South Wales and the eviDent Foundation, surveyed dentists, dental specialists, oral health therapists, dental therapists, dental hygienists and dental prosthetists between October and December 2021.
University of Melbourne Associate Professor Matt Hopcraft, one of the researchers on the study, said the findings raise important ‘red flags’ for the dental profession and highlighted the need for action to improve dental practitioners’ mental health and wellbeing.
“There is a need for a solutions-oriented call to action across the dental profession to draw attention to burnout and to look at interventions that focus on improving mental health and wellbeing,” A/Prof Hopcraft said.
“That is why we developed the Mindful Smiles Hub to be the leading voice for mental health and wellbeing for members of the dental team in Australia.
“Although there is an abundance of resources and support available to members of the dental team, it lacks coordination and a central point of focus, and much of it is not specifically targeted to dental practitioners and their teams. The work of the Mindful Smiles Hub is to collate this information, contextualise it for the dental team, make it readily available, raise awareness of mental health and wellbeing and work to reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues.”
This is the third publication from this study, with the first paper showing that one in six dental practitioners had recent thoughts of suicide and 5.6 per cent reported having thoughts of taking their own life.
Dentistry is clearly a stressful profession due to highly demanding technical skills and the imperative of striving for perfection, with high levels of professional stress due to the demands of meeting patients’ expectations, anxious, challenging or dissatisfied patients; time and scheduling pressures, professional isolation from colleagues, fear of litigation, patient complaints, pressures associated with running a small business, and negative public perceptions of dentists.
“There is also a stigma associated with mental health conditions, and this seems to be magnified in health professionals,” A/Prof Hopcraft said.
“Our research is helping to shine a light on problems that are all too common in the profession. It is vital that we reduce this stigma through advocacy and education to ensure practitioners can seek the appropriate mental health support they need.
“Improving mental health of dental practitioners is important for their wellbeing, patient outcomes and public health.”