“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend”

Bill Claytor, Associate Director, NCCDP

“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend”. This famous line from the 1962 movie, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”, refers to a commonly held public perception that is not true. This statement refers to the Jimmy Stewart’s character who supposedly killed someone which, was not actually true, but became public belief that he did kill the man.

This type statement could easily be applied to two aspects concerning the last 100 years in dentistry. One, that dentists continue to use Novocain, and two, that dentists have the highest suicide rates of any profession. The first legend is obviously false. When Novocain was invented in 1905, it replaced, believe it of not, cocaine. Novocain was used in dentistry through 1948 and was then replaced by Lidocaine due to its less time for onset, shorter duration of action, and less allergic reactions. The second legend is apparently also false according to the latest research and information. Our profession has been given this label for decades and I bet many of you have heard this in your circle of friends for years. I feel like it’s time to shed some light on the actual data and results.

Suicide
Each year in the U.S., 300 to 400 physicians die due to suicide.1  Dentists represent about 80 suicide deaths each year in the U.S. 2  However, the CDC states that healthcare ranks #11 of the top 30 jobs for suicide probability. 2

Dentistry has had the image of having the highest suicide rate of any profession since the 1920’s. However, multiple studies have indicated that there isn’t substantial evidence to support this claim.

Suicide risks of dentists do not take into account the correct scientific weight of: 3

  • Underreporting due to the stigma of guilt, shame and religious implications
  • Reporting as an accidental death
  • Not reporting the occupation at time of death
  • Very small number of dentists die of suicide (small fraction of total population)
  • Demographic variables
  • Previous psychiatric (co)morbidities before becoming a dentist
  • Opportunity factor (access to lethal weapons, drugs, etc.)
  • Stressors not related to work
  • Genetics / heredity

Research indicates that the analyses were flawed by the use of hearsay, public perceptions, assumptions and currently out dated practice information that may no longer be applicable. The study further states that there is no consistent statistical evidence available to prove that dentists are suicide prone; in fact, most reliable evidence suggests the opposite”. 3However, if you know a dental professional in need who is struggling with stress, anxiety, depression or thoughts of suicide, the NC Caring Dental Professionals can assist in finding help. Call us at 800-230-3934.

  1. https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/896257
  2. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1922/IDJ_2575Sancho08
  3. Alexander RE. Stress-related suicide by dentists and other health care workers. Fact or folklore? J Am Dent Assoc 2001; 132: 786-94.