Dentists should be drilled in social skills

September 13, 2002

Dentists of the future must learn to soothe as well as sedate, says new guidance for dental degree providers, and in doing so they have to get to know their patients.

This year, a regulatory change restricted general anaesthetics to hospitals, banning their use in dental practices. John Murray, chair of the General Dental Council working party responsible for the new guidance, said: "It was essential to reflect this change."

The guidance says: "The control of anxiety and pain is fundamental to the practice of dentistry and requires full awareness of social and psychological needs of the individual patient."

Students should have a sound knowledge of the "prevalence and nature of dental phobias and anxieties", says the guidance, but stops short of compulsory viewing of Marathon Man , in which Dustin Hoffman famously has his teeth drilled by Laurence Olivier.

In the second edition of The First Five Years: A Framework for Undergraduate Dental Education , the council replaces the section on sedation and general anaesthesia with guidance on pain and anxiety.

The GDC has taken a similar approach to that of the General Medical Council for dealing with students under stress or those with alcohol or drug-related problems. "While we have no formal responsibility for dental students because they are not registered with us, they are the registered dentists of the future," Professor Murray said.

"The new section on student health and conduct aims to ensure that dental students are fully supported in their studies and that they are aware of the standards set by the GDC that will apply to them as future dentists," he said.

The guidance describes dentistry as a "demanding profession". "At times, all dental students will be subject to stress and anxiety," it warns.

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