A view of the dental landscape: money and mental health

financial challengesIain Stevenson, senior area manager for Wesleyan Financial Services, speaks to Ros Keeton, chair of the BDA Benevolent Fund, to uncover the financial challenges that the profession is currently facing.

We are working through turbulent times within the profession. Particularly when it comes to personal and practice income. There’s a lot of uncertainty around what the future may hold in this respect.

The BDA Benevolent Fund is a financial support charity for dental students, dentists and dependants to aid individuals who face financial hardship. In conversation with Ros Keeton, Iain looks at how the charity has supported the profession to date, what the common challenges are and what Ros’ predictions are for the profession’s financial future.

What has your experience been with the charity in regard to the trends illustrating who is accessing the BDA Benevolent Fund’s support?

Ros Keeton (RK): We’re seeing a lot of younger dentists. Previously, our average age was probably just the average age of the profession. But now it’s very much moving towards the younger members, including dental students.

Partly, I think that’s because financial security for dentists is very different now compared to what it was a few years ago. People often work in a much more flexible way.

The working environment is much more fluid and unstable. That means people can very easily tip from being financially secure to suddenly the opposite.

Do you have any examples of where someone you’ve spoken to has experienced that?

RK: We’ve had cases where dentists were in the transition of moving jobs during the pandemic, had given their notice in and then their new employer withdrew the job offer.

Practices also seem to be reducing flexible working, where a dentist may have previously done a day at one practice and two days at another etc. The practice that wanted originally two days suddenly no longer want this service, thereby reducing that dentist to part time work.

Another example, which we’ve seen a lot, and something that quite concerns me, is the number of dental students who have highlighted that completing their training is proving to be a financial challenge. Many work in the hospitality industry around their course in order to cover their living costs.

Due to the pandemic, hospitality work and some aspects of the gig economy have ceased. The buffer those students had, allowing them to pay their rent, for food and such, disappeared.

We had quite a number of students in hardship, coming to us saying: ‘It was all okay and now it’s not. I just don’t know what I’m going to do.’

The concern is that this might have a long-term impact on dentistry. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds can’t access dentistry as their chosen career for fear of financial hardship.

We hear in the press a lot about mental health. I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the impact of financial difficulties on the mental health of the profession.

RK: I think you have to start from the basis that dentistry is a stressed profession.

Over 50% of the profession self-report high levels of anxiety and stress for a variety of reasons. That was pre-COVID.

Our reported levels of stress in this country are higher than dentists in other countries. We appear to have a bit of a hotspot forming.

I think for dentists who are stressed and having difficulty, managing their finances is an area they often ignore. And vice versa; people who are in financial trouble, those concerns then leak into everything else they’re doing and their mental health deteriorates.

We’re eager as a charity that, alongside supporting the profession in financial difficulty, to give assistance in other areas. Whether it’s through things like Health Assured, or whether it’s by signposting people to other resources.

That’s why I and Laura, our general manager, worked with a group of colleagues to develop and launch the new Wellbeing Support for the Dental Team guide.

It’s a great resource that people are able to use themselves, give to their colleagues or just have for reference on the practice computer.

Are there any mitigating actions that people can be doing to help them avoid financial crises in the future?

RK: There are two things I would recommend people do.

The first thing is, I’d recommend people talk to each other. Don’t be afraid to ask advice, and don’t be afraid to talk to people about problems that might be brewing.

As dentists, we have a tendency to hold in issues, which then grow into large problems. We need to be more open. If you do that, it’s amazing how much people will help you.

The second thing is that there are some very practical things you can do. For instance, there is a budget planner on our website. It’s just a simple tool that lets you look at how you are doing financially. It will prompt you to action if you’ve got a problem, or one developing.

It does sound like there seems to be quite a lot of stigma around speaking about the topic of financial difficulty. Have you seen that quite a lot in dentistry?

RK: Undoubtedly.

I think there are two things to note about dentists; firstly, there’s an expectation, from family, from friends and from the community, that dentists are financially well-off. We work in a society that creates the expectation that dentists won’t face financial difficulty. Many dentists then come into the profession, not recognising that they might develop or have a problem. That, I think, then makes it quite difficult to talk to people, due to the expectation and lack of understanding that financial difficulty can happen to anyone.

Secondly, I think dentists are, by nature, carers. They go into a job to help other people. They are the giver of treatments, they are the person who helps you maintain your health.

The way that dentists view themselves as being the person who solves the problem, not the person who’s got the problem. That’s a challenge that is difficult to overcome.

For dentists who may find it difficult to talk about topics such as these. What kind of people can they expect to speak to at the BDA Benevolent Fund?

RK: Really nice, welcoming people who will sit and listen to you and have lots of experience supporting dentists with financial concerns.

We’re completely non-judgemental, everything is confidential, and you will have a warm welcome.

We do a full financial health check with anyone that needs help. A significant number of people who’ve just gone through that process alone report feeling clearer and more confident about what they need to do to get back on track without needing financial aid.

However, if people do need a grant then that is something we will help with.

Finally, what does the future look like for the BDA Benevolent Fund? Do you foresee any financial challenges on the horizon for the profession moving forwards?

RK: I think how dentistry will pan out post-COVID remains to be seen.

At the BDA Benevolent Fund, we sadly expect to continue to see an increase in applications going forward. Some of the financial challenges are certainly not going to go away. We are well-placed to continue to support people. We’re therefore going to continue to help as many dentists in difficulty as we can.

At the same time, we want to look at what else we can add into our menu of services. That’s something myself and the other trustees are very passionately committed to moving forward.

If you’re in financial crisis and are seeking support, you can find out more about the BDA Benevolent Fund at www.bdabenevolentfund.org.uk. Or you can speak to someone directly on 020 7486 4994.

If you would like to take the first steps in organising your finances or planning them, you can book a no-obligation 30-minute quick start chat with a specialist Wesleyan Financial Services consultant at www.wesleyan.co.uk/quickstart. Alternatively, you can call 0800 316 3784.

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