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Surviving dental school: taking care of your health

23 January 2020

When your focus is on caring for your patients day in day out, it can be easy to let your own health issues slip from your priorities.

Staying well is important for both you and your patients, so it’s really important to get into good habits while you’re at dental school. Not only will this help take care of your own wellbeing, you’ll also avoid putting patients at risk.

Dental Council guidance is clear that you should not try and assess your own health, or rely on another student’s or colleague’s assessment.

It’s important to seek independent and objective advice about your own health. Register with a GP and ask for advice from your doctor or occupational health department at university, or both, if you are worried about your health. This includes mental health as well as physical.

Feeling stressed?

Dentistry is a stressful career, and this can begin at dental school. Good advice for dealing with stress is to get help early and be open about the issues you’re experiencing.

Keeping quiet, or ignoring the problem yourself, can cause things to escalate and lead to more serious issues with your mental health. Many dentists go through issues with depression and anxiety. And while it’s not always widely acknowledged, plenty of clinicians experience drug or alcohol dependency as a result of mental health issues.

Society’s attitude towards mental health is changing, and we’re becoming far more aware and understanding of our need to be open about it. There’s no reason this should be any different for dentists.

Case study

James was a second-year dental student on a graduate course. He had already completed an English degree and had always really excelled academically.

James found the first year at dental school different. He struggled to adapt to the more scientific way of approaching his studies and had difficulty making friends.

In the lead-up to the summer exams, he found himself becoming increasingly unhappy and withdrawn. He visited his GP who diagnosed him with depression and referred him for cognitive behavioural therapy.

As James’s mental health became harder to manage, he began to drink more regularly. This escalated quickly, and his attendance at lectures and tutorials started to drop.

James’s dental school became concerned and James turned to Dental Protection for advice. We were able to show that James’s poor attendance and perceived attitude problems related to an underlying health issue. James acknowledged that was struggling with depression and alcohol use, and the dental school allowed him to take a break from his studies and provided him with help and support through occupational health.

Learning points

  • • Health issues can arise at any time in your dental career, from the early days at university to the final years of clinical work. It is always important to seek help, the sooner the better.
  • • As the above scenario shows, getting appropriate advice and support can help to get your health and career back on track.

If you need advice or support on any of the issues raised in this post our dedicated student support and advice line is here for you on 01280 8668.

Please note: Dental Protection does not maintain this article and therefore the advice given may be incorrect or out of date, and may not constitute a definitive or complete statement of the legal, regulatory and/or clinical environment. MPS accepts no responsibility for the accuracy or completeness of the advice given, in particular where the legal, regulatory and/or clinical environment has changed. Articles are not intended to constitute advice in any specific situation, and if you are a member you should contact Dental Protection for tailored advice. All implied warranties and conditions are excluded, to the maximum extent permitted by law.