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Are hospital dentists the happiest amongst all dentists?

Blog Author Peter Dyer

Blog Date 02/03/2018



Thanks to all those took part in our survey of hospital dental staff. We wanted to get a better understanding of our members who work in hospital dentistry and the issues they are currently facing, especially the issues of career progression, and the current state of morale.

With seemingly endless cuts to the NHS, dentists working in it are feeling ever more squeezed and under pressure. The mantra of ‘efficiency savings’ have gone on for too long, at some point it feels like the creaking system is going to break down.

However, amongst the gloom in dentistry, and especially the plight of our GDP colleagues, it is heartening to hear that those working in the hospital dental sector, are amongst some of the ‘happiest’ – relatively speaking, of course.

We know that those working in the hospital dental sector face enormous challenges, but I think those of us who have chosen this career path will still recommend it to others, as it is often a satisfying role. 

What does the hospital dental workforce look like?

The majority of respondents to our survey were consultants, and the greatest number of those were working in the orthodontic (35%) and restorative specialities (25%)

To become a consultant is a long process (the average time it takes to get to this post is seven years), so it’s not surprising that the majority of respondents to our survey were in the older age brackets - 55-56 age group (35%), and 45-54% (30%). Only 5% were aged 25-34.

It’s also no surprise that respondents reported they have stayed in their current post for fairly long periods – the majority of respondents said they’d been in tenure for 11-20 years (36%).

Encouraging, 30% of consultant members said they had been appointed recently (i.e. within the last five years), which I believe shows the enthusiasm for becoming a consultant is not withering. 

And the fact that consultant posts are often permanent and 92% of respondents reported that they were appointed on a permanent contract, suggests that the hospital dental service overall, hopefully, still has a long term future in the NHS.

Morale and job satisfaction: are you happy?

Falling morale is a big theme of work for the BDA. For NHS high-street dental practitioners, we know that morale is falling and possibly at an all-time low, but what does the picture look like for hospital dentists?

We asked you about opportunities to develop your career and new skills, as we know these are often things that improve morale and give people career satisfaction.

In relation to job satisfaction, to the vast majority our consultant respondents said they were mostly or completely satisfied with their roles, although some were not happy with their ability to develop news skills or felt there were enough opportunities to develop careers.

We looked at your results in comparison with results from our GDS and Community Dental Service surveys, on these issues and hospital dentists are generally, some of the most satisfied. 

When asked about morale, our respondents reported good morale levels, again, especially in comparison to dentists working in other fields, although those who reported low morale, their levels were significantly lower than colleagues in general or community practice. 

However, the morale levels reported for SAS respondents was significantly lower than their consultant colleagues (10%). The ‘clinical’ components of the job satisfaction questions showed a particular divergence. We didn’t ask why they were not satisfied, but we believe it’s due to the current structure and lack of opportunities for those working in OMFS and oral surgery and this requires more investigation. 

Who do you teach or train?

One factor that we know often motivates our staff, is the opportunities to do teaching and training. After all, those who work in this sector usually have a high thirst for knowledge and skill development, so we asked our consultant respondents to tell us how much time they spent teaching or training. 

Over 80% said they do postgraduate teaching (non CCST) and 65% said they teach dental undergrads. Also, 78% said they provide training to DCPs, 41% said they provide training to medical staff and. 

This is interesting because although we expected that consultants would provide training to junior dental staff, they also do training for those not directly under their remit. 

The future of the hospital dental service: workforce

We looked at some trends to help us think about the future for the hospital dental service and implications for the workforce.

The majority of our respondents who were DCTs, were female (nearly 70%). Amongst StRs too, 54% were female. However, respondents amongst the higher grade posts, SAS staff were 50% male and consultants 60% male. 

Traditionally, we’ve seen a lot of trainees choose to go into the community dental service, and we know this field is often predominately female. 

It’ll be interesting to see the career paths of current trainees and how many women may choose to stay in hospital posts. 

We believe barriers to women staying in the hospital sector may exist, currently consultant posts often involve irregular working hours and this may put off some women (and perhaps some men) considering a career in the sector. 

More research needs to be done into this area, as it could be a concern for the future of the workforce, if there are not enough trainees choosing to take on consultant posts.

Those wishing to get a staff grade and associate specialist posts (SAS) need a minimum of four years post-graduate experience. 

Bearing in mind the BDS graduation age is around 23, the fact that 20% of SAS members responding to our survey were under 34, suggests that these roles are popular amongst young dentists. 

We are concerned that 17% of SAS respondents said they had unsuccessfully applied for a specialist training post within the last two years, and this needs further investigation. 

Responses from StR respondents on whether they were currently undergoing speciality training also gives us some food for thought. 

There appears to be a lack of trainees across the range of specialities and we need to investigate this further. It’s important that we have new blood rising up through the ranks, to ensure the future of the specialities are safeguarded and so that patients can access the specialist help they need. 

Many our StR respondents said they had a desire to retain posts in the hospital dental service after their training (71%), yet only 37% were actually being directly trained to take up hospital posts. This is also something that needs further research undertaken, to ensure workforce planning is effective. 

How you can help us

Surveys like this help us to build our knowledge about how our members are faring at work and help us in our work to lobby for better terms and conditions, to ensure job roles continue to be attractive and satisfying. 

It’s only with your support and the time you take to provide us with this information and to tell us what your concerns are, that we can help safeguard the future of hospital dental careers.

Peter Dyer, Chair
Central Committee for Hospital Dental Services

Representing hospital dentists

The BDA's Central Committee for Hospital Dental Services (CCHDS) aims to safeguard the interests of dentists working in hospitals on dental and medical terms and conditions. We have close links with the

British Medical Association (BMA) and the BMA provides employment advice on behalf of the BDA to members employed on hospital terms and conditions.