Almost half of dentists experience aggression from their patients

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Around half of dentists experienced aggression from their patients in the last year, research reveals. 

This is according to a new study carried out by researchers at New York University.

It found a significant proportion of the profession reported verbal, reputational or physical aggression from their patients over the last 12 months.

For example, over the last year nearly one quarter (22.2%) reported experiencing physical violence. Additionally, 55% experienced verbal aggression while 44.4% experienced reputational aggression.

Researchers surveyed almost 100 dentists practising in New York City, all of whom had been working for around 17 years.

Violence overlooked

Types of aggressive behaviours included being pushed, kicked, insulted, sworn at, threat of lawsuits and negative social media posts.

Rates of aggression did not change according to race, sex, ethnicity, age, specialty, the numbers of years practising or the number of patients treated each day.

The figures ballooned when the question was extended to the entirety of the respondent’s career. Data showed:

  • 74% reported verbal aggression
  • 68.7% reported reputational
  • 45.5% reported physical.

‘Workplace violence toward health care professionals is both widespread and widely overlooked,’ said Kimberly Rhoades, the study’s lead author.

‘The purpose of this study was to provide an initial estimate of rates of patient aggression in dental practices in the United States.’

Fear and anxiety

She added: ‘Dentistry is rife with situations that can elicit strong negative emotions, such as fear, pain, distrust, and anger.

‘Many patients also experience high levels of anxiety and vulnerability, which may increase negative responses or aggression.

‘Establishing that aggression towards dentists is a problem. How often it occurs can help us develop interventions to prevent aggression in dental practices.’


Author’s analysis

As the researchers pointed out, many people suffer from a fear of the dentist. As a result, it is perhaps unsurprising that dental professionals face significant levels of aggression from their patients.

However, this doesn’t mean it’s inevitable or deserved. A similar UK-based study would be worth carrying out to help determine how patient aggression can be tackled and avoided.

The recent case of one dentist being stalked by an ex-patient with a crossbow and knives speaks for itself.


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