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Don’t let the risk of litigation cause you stress

Blog Author Jane Merivale, Dento-Legal Advisor

Blog Date 13/01/2020


Dentistry can be a stressful profession. I experienced disabling episodes of acute stress during my 25 years as a GDP. Then as a dento-legal advisor, I saw the toll exacted from many dentists when they were faced with a complaint, a claim or a Fitness to Practise enquiry.


There is widespread recognition that dentists are experiencing stress and burnout, resulting in time off work and even early departure from the profession. Research confirms a rather bleak picture, with one survey of 2,000 UK dentists showing that almost a fifth (17.6%) of dentists surveyed had seriously thought about  suicide.[1]  I find these figures alarming, but I am less surprised by the most common sources of stress, most of which are related to the threat of complaints/litigation (79%), dissatisfied patients (75.1%) and concern about the GDC (72.8%). [2


Indemnity providers bear some responsibility for the current level of fear within the dental profession.

Indeed, many of the historic risk management presentations delivered by these organisations fuelled that fear when describing how the GDC works and quoting statistics of claims and complaints. This material seeded worry in the profession like a communicable disease such that even if you felt reasonably OK when you arrived at a risk management lecture, you were very likely to leave anxious.


An analogy can be drawn from driving; if you sit in your car before starting a journey and think too much about the possibility of fatal accidents you might never drive again! But when you take a moment to rationalise that you have passed your driving test, are alert and well, will obey the rules of the road and will wear your seat belt, that realisation allows you to proceed with caution, but nonetheless drive!


You can inform dentists about indemnity and legal risk without obfuscation and fearmongering.

Through our Risk of Litigation events and our indemnity brochure, we aim to provide you with the facts about the risk of getting into trouble. In addition to the trends in claims and cases being heard by Fitness to Practice committees at the GDC, our indemnity team also aims to provide dentists with ideas and techniques that they can deploy to reduce their risk (akin to wearing a seat belt and following the rules of the road). I’d urge you to consider finding out more about your legal risk and taking some steps to reduce it, as it may help you to reduce any work-related stress you are under.


Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to stress. At the BDA, we are concerned about dentists’ mental health and their level of resilience. That’s why, we provide members with access to a confidential counselling service, Health Assured. Our President, Roz McMullan, is also convening a conference in February 2020 to determine what more can be done to address the climate of fear and reduce stress levels within the profession.


If you would like to find out more about legal risk in dentistry and what steps you could take to reduce yours, I invite you to attend one of our Risk of Litigation seminars, being held in London this year. It may help you avoid some of the major stresses of modern dentistry.


Jane Merivale

Dento-Legal Advisor, BDA Indemnity  

The risk of litigation - is it real and should you be worried?

Friday 24 January 2020 | London
Friday 3 July 2020 | London



[1] Collin, V., Toon, M., O'Selmo, E. et al. A survey of stress, burnout and well-being in UK dentists. Br Dent J 226, 40–49 (2019) doi:10.1038/sj.bdj.2019.6



[2] Collin, V., Toon, M., O'Selmo, E. et al. A survey of stress, burnout and well-being in UK dentists. Br Dent J 226, 40–49 (2019) doi:10.1038/sj.bdj.2019.6