Bain C, Jerome L. Dent Update 2017; 44: 937–946

Burnout can be described as a 'syndrome of emotional exhaustion and cynicism that occurs frequently among individuals who do 'people-work' of some kind'.1

A UK-based study of 335 dentists found that a small but significant proportion of the dentists surveyed had scores that indicated burnout on all three of the scales used to measure this construct, and a further 18.5% showed burnout on two of the three scales. Dentists who spent a greater proportion of their time in NHS practice were more likely to have high burnout scores and low work engagement scores. This was also the case for solo practitioners and those with no postgraduate qualifications.2

The positive influences of social media on reducing burnout may include virtual group therapy, ie access to professional Facebook groups, which may provide collegiality for solo practitioners. Posting clinical cases on social media is suggested to show a clear, if unstated, desire to be 'liked'. The author mentions a study that found those with a strong need for social comparison were more susceptible to burnout3 and suggested that those regularly posting cases may largely come from a subset more susceptible to burnout, and less than expected praise might accelerate this process. The author also describes that posting blatant displays of 'success', eg luxury acquisitions, may be subconscious cries for positive recognition. These posts may additionally have the potential to cause major psychological damage to less experienced colleagues.

Other influences on burnout were covered and include the temptation of carrying out complex treatment without rigorous training due to aggressive dental marketing and patient demands. The initiation of a vicious chain of events is described: increasing patient complaints, purchase of an expensive item to 'feel' better, spiralling debts, cutting corners to increase cashflow, increased patients complaints, a letter from the GDC and finally burnout. Lack of training in practice organisation, legal and insurance matters and staff management may also negatively influence chances of burnout. The author suggests the investment involved in training young dentists can only be effective if it includes business and life skills. Prevention and early identification of burnout through the recognition of some of the discussed risk factors and signs/symptoms is essential.