Dentist Health and Well-Being Survey Report finds dentists struggle with anxiety, discomfort at work
by David Burger
February 23, 2022
The percent of dentists diagnosed with anxiety more than tripled in 2021 compared to 2003, according to the ADA's newly released 2021 Dentist Health and Well-Being Survey Report, spurring the ADA and ADA Council on Dental Practice to take action on supporting the wellness of dentists.
"Supporting both the physical and mental health needs of dentists, across their lifespan, continues to be an important area of focus for the ADA," said Jim Hoddick, D.D.S., ADA Council on Dental Practice chair. "COVID-19 has created unique stressors. I see people every day who are stressed out to the max and overworked."
Finding ways to mitigate work-related pain, whether physical or mental, is paramount for the Association, said Sherry Gwin, D.M.D., the Council on Dental Practice's Health, Wellness and Aging Subcommittee chair.
"The long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted everyone, including dentists and their team members," she said. "The ADA should be a safe spot."
Dr. Gwin said, "We're so used to paddling our own canoes. But we need to band together to remove the stigma of seeking support."
She added that pandemic has exacerbated the staffing shortage that has plagued the profession, adding more burdens to dentists and existing staff members.
In March 2021, the survey was sent by email to a random selection of 20,000 ADA member and nonmember dentists licensed to practice in the U.S.
Other 2021 survey findings include:
• Most dentists (86%) reported they were satisfied with their dental practice and 95% reported feeling respected by the people they work with. However, younger dentists reported feeling respected less often compared to older dentists.
• In the past year, 84% of dentists reported pain or discomfort while working. The neck, lower back, shoulders, and upper back were the most common sites of discomfort. Of dentists who reported pain or discomfort while working, 14% indicated the pain interfered with work.
• Hearing problems were common, reported by 35% of dentists overall and more than twice as often by those age 40 and over compared to younger dentists. More than half reported their hearing problems have remained the same and most (61%) had not been evaluated by an audiologist.
• Of all dentists, 63% reported that they had experienced a medical condition. The most common conditions were back problems (27%); elevated cholesterol (16%); anxiety (16%); depression (13%); headaches (12%); arthritis (10%); ringing in the ear (9%); numbness/tingling, paresthesia, or muscle weakness (8%); temporomandibular joint dysfunction (8%); and chronic pain (8%).
• Less than half (46%) of dentists were aware of state dentist well-being programs available through their dental associations.
This is the third time the ADA has conducted this wellness survey, with the first in 2003 and the second in 2015. The 2021 survey report can be accessed online in the ADA Catalog.
The ADA Practice Institute team is in the early phases of sharing the report across the tripartite in support of Resolution 95H-2021, Prioritizing the Mental Health of Dentists, passed by the 2021 ADA House of Delegates.
The resolution stipulated that the ADA, in conjunction with mental health consultants, analyze the availability of resources to support the mental health of dentists and collect information regarding existing health and wellness programs from across the tripartite and other professional organizations including, but not limited to the American Medical Association, the American Student Dental Association and the ADA New Dentist Committee.
It further resolved that the ADA use the collected information to:
• Explore partnering with third-party mental health providers for member dentists.
• Analyze the existing well-being conference for potential enhancement. The next conference is scheduled for 2023.
• Create a toolkit to help prevent dentist suicide, including a guide for responding to a suicide or unexpected death, and recommendations for practice coverage for short-term and long-term absences due to mental illness and permanent absence due to suicide or unexpected death.
• Identify best practices, then consider the creation of an effective mental health and wellness campaign for members.
The resolution also instructed the ADA to explore safeguarding dentists from punitive action by state dental boards as well as third-party credentialing with regard to mental health issues and report back to the 2022 House of Delegates with an actionable plan.
In the meantime, council members said that help is already out there.
"The ADA has numerous resources to support the health and wellness of dentists across three domains: mental health, opioids and ergonomics," Dr. Hoddick said. "Take advantage of this information and share these resources with your teams and colleagues."
An ADA Accelerator Series webinar with dental ergonomics expert Bethany Valachi, D.P.T., is scheduled for March 2 at 7 p.m. Central time.