Michael Sultan: Aggression in Dentistry

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Michael Sultan asks: “What can we do about aggression in dentistry?”

We’ve all had unpleasant experiences with patients. These can range from insubstantial behaviours including individuals being sarcastic or dismissive of advice, to more serious issues such as patients acting in a threatening manner or even being verbally or physically abusive.

But how common are these experiences? A new study I came across that looked at aggressive behaviours exhibited against American dentists presents some depressing results – nearly all dentists interviewed had experienced some form of aggression from a patient in the last year [1].

In a twelve-month period 22.2% reported physical aggression against them such as being pushed or kicked, 55% had experienced verbal aggression such as swearing and 44.4% had received reputational abuse such as threats to take legal action. These numbers only increased when dentists were asked about the span of their careers, with each category of abuse rocketing up by around 20%.

Interestingly, what this survey found was that these abusive behaviours happened towards dentists of all ages, sexes, ethnicities and regardless of how long they had been in their careers. This proves one thing – it is the act of visiting the dentist itself that is the cause of the majority of these aggressions.

If you think about it, this isn’t too surprising. Dentistry, unfortunately, is often associated with negative emotions and the potential for pain, and this can mean that people become anxious and on high alert whenever they make an appointment.

Furthermore, there’s a general feeling among many people that their dentist will tell them off for not flossing or looking after their teeth properly – much like being told off in school. This instantly creates feelings of guilt, shame and anger that can easily manifest as aggressive behaviour, particularly if these people are already feeling nervous or on edge.

So, what can we do? It may be worth looking at some staff training on how best to deal with aggressive patients and what steps should be taken. This way the whole team will be prepared to protect themselves from any potential abuse and know how best to face these situations when they arise.


Michael Sultan is the founder and Principal of EndoCare, a leading endodontic specialist practice and referral centre. For more information, visit www.endocare.co.uk. Michael is interested in all aspects of healthcare and is a regular contributor to Dental Review.


1] Science Daily. Most Dentists Have Experienced Aggression from Patients. Link: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/10/201026153942.htm [Last accessed November 20].

Headline photo by Engin Akyurt on Unsplash