PPE anxiety, discontent with regulators, pay disputes and bullying – help is at hand for dentists in a crisis

02 July 2020
3 min read

She’s a member of the British Dental Association’s General Dental Practice Committee, and vice chair of the Welsh General Dental Practice Committee and Welsh Dental Council.

A while back, Lauren set up a closed Facebook group called Mental Dental to support dentists struggling with their mental health. The group has more than 5,000 members and offers a ‘safe place’ for dentists to discuss common issues and challenges.

Lauren was also involved in setting up Confidental – a helpline for dentists in emotional crisis.

The helpline is designed to offer ‘emotional first aid’ to dentists who are struggling emotionally and/or mentally and may be feeling overwhelmed.

Lauren says: ‘Sometimes a friendly and open, but confidential, ear gives us the opportunity to give voice to all the doubts and fears and shameful thoughts that gnaw away at us and leave us feeling weak.’ 

Here, she reveals how COVID-19 has had an impact on her and the metal health of her colleagues and how the two support systems are making a difference.

How has COVID-19 impacted practice? Practices in Wales never really closed and we have been seeing patients for extractions and dressings throughout. As well as phone triage and limited face to face with patients, I’ve been busy with work on behalf of the BDA and Confidental. Of course, the traffic on Mental Dental has been somewhat increased over this period as well.

How has this affected your own mental health? My mental health has been fairly stable but it’s easy to become overwhelmed when there are many tasks that need urgent attention. It’s been necessary to step back from social media on occasion and take time away from the screens so that I can regain focus.

I’ve really enjoyed having more time with my family and they’ve enjoyed joining me on the odd Zoom meeting.

Has the number of dentists joining the closed Facebook group spiked these past few months? Yes! We’ve had many join requests but also seen an increase in the number of people posting in search of support. The pandemic and resulting chaos have affected dentists in various ways and exposed problems and gaps in communication.

What can Mental Dental offer colleagues? Mental Dental offers colleagues a more supportive arena to air their stresses and worries. Members are able to post anonymously if they wish to keep their problems confidential. The group is not for advice but other members may signpost and offer supportive statements.

What are the main concerns? There have been many disputes over pay and much anxiety about PPE, new working patterns and general anxiety over the risks of catching COVID-19. Bullying has been a consistent complaint, I’m sad to say.

What do you recommend dentists do should they feel they are at crisis point? I would urge dentists who feel under immense pressure or who feel that they are at crisis point, or even feeling suicidal, to reach out and talk to someone. There are many places to seek help now. Please remember that everything is temporary to varying degrees, whatever stress or issues you have now. It may feel tough and like the problems you have are insurmountable, but there is support for everyone and you deserve to give yourself the chance to try. The resources are listed at the end of this article.

How has the GDC impacted on the profession? The GDC has done damage in the past and is still perceived as heavy handed. There has been much discontent over this period as the whole profession has been insulted by the fact that the annual retention fee (ARF) has not been cut or even allowed to be paid in instalments. This has been particularly hard for DCPs who are due to pay their ARF by 31 July. Many are on furlough with reduced income, or are getting no income at all. We have seen desperate posts on social media from some of our DCP colleagues who risk being deregistered as they cannot afford to pay their ARF.

What can dentists do to make their voice heard? Dentists can write letters to their MPs or to local or national press – even better would be to get involved with an organised group or representative body.

How key is it to be a part of the BDA or other representative body? It’s so important to be involved with a professional body, such as the BDA.  You will find support and advice and representation on a local and a national level.  These bodies work for the good of the whole profession but will have a louder voice if it has more members and support.

How can the government help the profession? The government needs to recognise how vital dentistry is to the good health of the nation and put adequate support mechanisms in place. Many practices have been teetering on the edge of bankruptcy over this period and we aren’t totally out of the woods yet. More evidence is needed about the risk of COVID-19 within a dental setting. We should not accept that we need such extra measures and costs blindly, for many these extra precautions could mean crossing the line from profit to loss. Each practice closure is a huge loss for staff and patients alike.