Workplace violence Health care/social assistance Health Care Workers

Patient aggression toward dentists a common issue: survey

Photo: FG Trade/iStockphoto

New York — More than half of dentists have experienced verbal aggression from patients within the past year, and more than 1 out of 5 have been the victim of physical aggression, results of a recent survey show.

Researchers from the New York University College of Dentistry conducted an online survey of 98 dentists practicing in the New York City metropolitan area. The respondents answered questions about whether they had experienced 21 specific types of aggressive behaviors from patients over the past 12 months, including:

  • Physical (e.g., kicked or pushed)
  • Verbal (insulted or sworn at)
  • Reputational (being threatened with lawsuits or having negative comments about them posted on social media)

Fifty-five percent of the dentists said they had experienced verbal aggression, 22% had been the target of physical aggression and 44% had been the victim of reputational aggression. Over the course of all of the respondents’ careers, which was an average of 17 years, they reported being subjected to verbal (74%), reputational (69%) and physical (46%) aggression at percentages comparable with those reported in other health care settings, the researchers noted.

“Dentistry is rife with situations that can elicit strong negative emotions, such as fear, pain, distrust and anger,” said lead study author Kimberly Rhoades, a research scientist at the NYU College of Dentistry. “Many patients also experience high levels of anxiety and vulnerability, which may increase negative responses or aggression. Establishing that aggression toward dentists is a problem, and how often it occurs can help us develop interventions.”


The researchers recommend that dental practices consider training that includes strategies for handling workplace violence, preventing patient aggression, and managing or de-escalating situations when they occur.

The study was published online Oct. 1 in the Journal of the American Dental Association.

Post a comment to this article

Safety+Health welcomes comments that promote respectful dialogue. Please stay on topic. Comments that contain personal attacks, profanity or abusive language – or those aggressively promoting products or services – will be removed. We reserve the right to determine which comments violate our comment policy. (Anonymous comments are welcome; merely skip the “name” field in the comment box. An email address is required but will not be included with your comment.)