Experience with an aggressive patient is nothing new for most dentists

A study from NYU College of Dentistry finds many dentists have experienced aggression—verbal, physical, reputational—from patients.

Researchers from NYU College of Dentistry published the first study of aggression from patients toward dentists in the U.S. in the October 2020 issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association.

The study looks at a sample of New York dentists who completed a survey asking about 21 specific types of aggressive behaviors including verbal abuse such as being sworn at; physical aggression, such as being pushed or kicked; and reputational aggression such as social media harassment or threats of a lawsuit. It found that in the past year 55% of dentists reported verbal aggression from patients, while 44% reported reputational aggression, and 22% reported experiencing physical aggression.

The numbers grew significantly when asked about their experiences throughout their careers. Verbal abuse from patients was reported by 74% of the dentists, with 69% reporting reputational aggression, and 46% of dentists saying they have experienced physical aggression from a patient. The study did not find any significant demographic factors influencing the rates of aggression, nor did they find any correlations to dental specialty, years of experience, or how many patients a dentist sees.

Researchers believe a larger, nationwide study is merited, and also advise dental professionals to seek education about preventing aggression from patients, and de-escalating when a patient does become aggressive.

The full study is here.