Dental Professionals Experience Aggression More Often Than You Know

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Aggression toward dental professionals at work is widespread but is often overlooked, unreported, and undocumented. Many dentists and other dental professionals have experienced violence from their patients. But oftentimes, dentists fail to realize that they are already being abused by their patients or that they are subject to violence.

Violence exists everywhere- in the city, neighborhood, community, and even in the workplace. Oftentimes, this form of aggression is a silent cycle of abuse – verbal, physical, and emotional- that does not only make the victim feel downhearted, trapped, and helpless but also leave a negative impact on their quality of life.

Workplace violence is quite common as well. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), roughly two million people in the United States experience workplace violence each year.  OSHA also reported that injuries resulting from violence are ranked as the third leading cause of fatal occupational injuries in the U.S. Workplace violence includes any threat or act of harassment, intimidation, verbal abuse, physical violence, and sexual abuse within the premise of the workplace. And dental professionals, with the nature of their work, are not an exception.

Violence against dental professionals at work is widespread but is often overlooked, unreported, and undocumented. Or if reported, actions to address aggressions against these professionals are taken lightly and others are left unheard. In fact, there are only 5 studies of violence against dental professionals that have been performed and published- 1 in the U.S. and 4 from other countries. This fact alone will tell you how aggression toward dental professionals is overlooked.

In the 4 published studies done outside the U.S., it was found out that the prevalence of violence against dentists ranges from 29% to 80%. Whilst, the first documented study in the U.S. entitled “Patient aggression toward dentists” published in the official website of “The Journal of the American Dental Association” dated October 01, 2020 reports that 22.2% of dentists in the U.S. experienced physical abuse in the past year, 55.0% experienced verbal abuse, and 44.4% experienced reputational aggression. Moreover, 45.5% of the dentists surveyed are subjected to physical aggression, 74% verbal aggression, and 68.7% reputational aggression. Compared to other health care professionals, dentists experience, and are subject to higher rates of aggression from patients. 

Though the scope of this particular study is quite limited (only 98 practicing dentists participated in the study) and is done only to attain initial prevalence estimates, the results so far should be sufficient enough to call for additional research with a wider scope and larger representative samples. A larger study will not only help determine the actual prevalence rates at the national level but it will also help find possible solutions or interventions to eliminate or at least minimize aggression that dentists experienced from their patients. 

Overlooked and unheard

Many dentists and other dental professionals have experienced violence from their patients. The majority of these cases are overlooked and unheard. But oftentimes, dentists fail to realize that they are already being abused by their patients or that they are subject to violence.

It is normal for dentists, hygienists, and other dental professionals to deal with patients with an aggressive personality. They are often faced with situations that can trigger strong negative emotions like anger, pain, fear, and distrust. For many people, the thought of visiting a dental clinic alone and sitting in a dental chair with a dentist wearing dental loupes and headlight standing beside them is terrifying. No wonder why many patients experience high levels of vulnerability, fear, and anxiety when inside the dental operating room. These strong feelings are among the root causes of aggression and negative response. 

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Bringing prevalence of aggression toward dental professional at a lower level

The first thing that dentists and dental professionals need to do is acknowledging the problem. Thinking that getting pushed, sworn at, insulted, kicked, and threatened with a lawsuit is a normal part of dealing with aggressive patients who have dental fear and anxiety is a huge misconception. If you think that this part of being a dentist, you are wrong. If you leave this misconception uncorrected, you will continue to experience such types of violence all throughout your dental career. And you surely don’t want this to happen, right?

Dealing with aggressive patients does not mean that you will just tolerate their negative behavior. As a dental health care provider, you can’t deny any patient who needs dental treatment even if such a patient tends to be violent. However, there are also things you can do to keep yourself and your dental team safe from potential abuse. 

You can set up your clinic in a way that will help lessen the patients' fear and anxiety. 

  • Remove any gruesome dental images including those that show invasive treatment procedures, and oral health problems as these can trigger patients’ anxiety.
  • Make your waiting room comfortable and soothing by eliminating the nasty dental smell, painting the walls with calming colors like earth tones, cream, green, and blue, playing relaxing music, and streaming funny videos. 
  • Don’t put too much pressure on your patient. Instead of doing things at your own pace, let the patient decide when he/she is ready. Take breaks or pauses between to give room for the patient to relax a bit especially during long procedures. 
  • Schedule patient with dental anxiety wisely. Don’t schedule them on hectic days or times and give them more time than your regular patients. This way, your patient won’t feel pressured and you also don’t need to rush because of time constraints. 

You can also consider getting a training course that incorporates different strategies for effectively handling workplace violence and to prevent or manage patient aggression. You can also invest in dental equipment, tools, and devices that will help significantly improve your performance like the best dental loupes and headlights. Oftentimes, patients who have or who know someone who has previous negative dental experience are the ones with dental fear. Knowing that you can deliver excellent performance can help keep your patients at ease. 

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