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DDU advising more dental professionals on dealing with violent or aggressive patients


  Posted by: The Probe      19th September 2019

The Dental Defence Union has seen an increase in dental professionals wanting advice or support on how to deal with violent or aggressive patients.

In the five years 2014-2018, the DDU supported members with 118 cases involving harassment or threatening and aggressive behaviour directed at dental professionals or practice staff. There were 64 cases in the second two years compared with 54 in the first three years, a rise of 19%.

The majority of cases involved abusive or aggressive behaviour by patients such as calling the practice repeatedly to harass staff, making vexatious complaints, using abusive and threatening language and posting allegations on social media. In a handful of cases the dental professional had contacted the police because they were concerned for their safety or because a confrontation had become violent.

David Lauder, DDU dento-legal adviser commented:

“Most patients get on well with their dentist but occasionally the professional relationship can turn sour. Sadly, it is not unknown for patients to pose a threat to the wellbeing and safety of practice staff.

“While the overall numbers remain low, there has been a slight increase in cases reported to the DDU. This may point to an increase in unacceptable behaviour, but it could also reflect a zero-tolerance approach by dental professionals who rightly want advice about how to protect practice staff and other patients.

“It’s important for practices to have a policy in place about how such behaviour will be dealt with and to communicate this to patients and staff. In some cases, it may be necessary to end a relationship with a patient, but it is important to be able to justify this decision and that ethical and contractual obligations are observed. Get expert advice from the DDU if you are in this difficult situation.”

Common themes in cases where patients or third parties became violent or abusive included:

  • Dissatisfaction over the process or outcome of a procedure such as extraction or root canal treatment or alleged failure to treat/manage a condition such as periodontal disease.
  • Disagreements about treatment charges.
  • Availability of appointments or patients repeatedly failing to attend appointments.

The DDU has published the full analysis in the latest edition of

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