5 Challenges Dentists May Face During Their Career

by Kate Sheppard

Dentistry is a very rewarding profession, but it does have challenges. A lot of the challenges you will face in your career will be unique to your practice and patients – but there are some common themes.

The more aware you are of the common challenges you might face, the better prepared you will be when/if you encounter them.

Here are five of the most common challenges dentists might face during their careers:

1. Unexpected challenges: Covid-19 

Eddie Crouch, chair of the British Dental Association, says there is “no question” that Covid-19 is the biggest challenge the global dental profession has ever faced. He also points out that the effects of the pandemic on dentistry won’t end with Covid-19 itself. Repercussions are likely to continue for many, many years to come.

Covid-19 has exposed some serious problems with the industry. Elements that were shaky before (dental inequality, for example) have been broken by the pandemic. Rebuilding and reforming the industry will be a big challenge for current and future dentists.

2. Business admin

Most people get into dentistry to fix mouths, not to compile spreadsheets. However, dental practices are businesses – and businesses need a lot of admin.

As you progress in your career, you’ll find yourself spending more and more time on business admin. Dental practice owners often spend more time looking at their paperwork than they do looking at teeth.

This is often challenging, and not just because business admin isn’t exactly fun. The business skills many dentists need aren’t usually taught in dental school.

To combat this challenge, it’s worth looking into business courses. You can find some useful information on courses related to dental practice management in our continuing education section.

A good practice manager can also work wonders. If you really struggle with business admin, consider hiring someone (or several someones!) to help out.

3. Work-life balance

Dentistry is tough, time-consuming work at the best of times. When you add in the business admin mentioned above, it can get overwhelming.

Stress-induced burnout is a big problem in the dental industry. Learning how to minimize and handle stress is therefore very important for upcoming dentists.

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance isn’t always easy, but it’s worth it in the long-run. Burnout can have serious repercussions on a career, ranging from long-term illness to declining performance (see point 4 for more on why this is bad!)

4. Patient complaints

Dentists must always be on top of their game. Dental health is very important, and people are sensitive about their smiles. If a dentist messes up (or is perceived to have messed up) in any way, it could cause a patient complaint.

Not only are patient complaints hard to hear, they could also result in a medical negligence suit. According to McCarthy + Co, patients can claim for dental negligence in many scenarios, including:

  • Failure to diagnose a significant issue (periodontitis, for example)
  • Failure to fit an implant correctly
  • Careless or inaccurate dental work
  • Procedures going wrong, causing pain and stress for the patient
  • Failure to provide the necessary radiology or imaging

To avoid patient complaints and negligence claims, it’s important to keep your skills tuned up, and to recognize when you’re not up to a certain procedure. There’s no shame in passing cases you’re not comfortable with over to someone else. The important thing is that the patient gets the best care possible. 

5. Team communication and motivation

No dentist is an island! From receptionists to hygienists, there’s usually a team involved in running a dental practice.

Communication and motivation are always issues in any team.  A lack of effective communication and motivation can contribute to a toxic workplace culture. It can make team members less productive, and may ultimately lead to them leaving to find a more fulfilling role elsewhere.

For practices to run efficiently and be fulfilling places to work, team members need to feel like they have a voice, that they can communicate issues easily, and that they get effective feedback when it’s needed.

Motivation is also vital. Often, good communication builds motivation, but it’s still worth putting in the extra effort to find out what motivates your team members. Even a small boost in motivation can work wonders.

Final thoughts

Keeping an eye out for these challenges will make it much easier to combat them if they arise. Some, like communication and motivation issues, or impending burnout, are easier to nip in the bud if you’re alert to their warning signs.

By staying alert to these common issues, you can make sure that your practice is productive, highly-rated, and a great place to work.

About the Author

Kate Sheppard is a mum of two, who is passionate about sharing advice on topics related to healthcare and parenting.