September 25, 2023

Are orthodontists’ personalities different?

This post concerns a recent research paper examining the personalities of orthodontists, oral maxillofacial surgeons, general dentists and dental nurses. It is not the usual type of paper that the orthodontic journals publish. Importantly, it gives us great insight into differences between our work colleagues. I thought that it was interesting and well worth-reading.

I have often wondered about the personality traits of both myself and my colleagues. I have been analysed many times in the roles that I have previously done. It is no surprise to those who know me that I am introverted, a little too confident and need peace and quiet at least twice a day. The authors of this paper point out that personality is important for teamwork and that liaison with colleagues correlates with health and the quality of interpersonal relationships.

A team from Leeds and Manchester, North of England and Chapel Hill, USA, did this study.

Naeem Adam, Sophy Barber, Kara Gray-Burrows, Claire Bates, Rishma Shah, and Trevor Hodge

AJO-DDO online: DOI:

I need to declare an interest as I have worked with members of this team on research and conference organisation.

What did they ask?

They did this study to:

“Measure the personality of dental professionals in the United Kingdom and investigate differences between these groups”.

What did they do?

They did a cross-sectional survey investigation of the following groups.

  • Dental Nurses
  • General Dental Practitioners (GDPs)
  • Orthodontists
  • Oral Maxillofacial Surgeons.

The team recruited participants via dental associations, the UK dental schools and professional Facebook groups. They could not recruit participants by in-person contact because of COVID-19 restrictions.

They measured the respondents’ personality traits using the Five Factor Model (FFM). This evaluates extraversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism and openness. These are called The Big Five. The study team helpfully provided additional information on the definition of these traits in the paper, which is open access.

They did a straightforward sample size calculation that suggested they needed to recruit 46 respondents per group.

The participants completed an online questionnaire that collected demographic data and contained The Big Five Inventory.

Finally, they did a clear data analysis involving exploratory statistics and the relevant hierarchical regression to determine if personality was associated with occupation, taking demographics into account.

What did they find?

They recruited 475 dental nurses, 182 General Dentists, 201 orthodontists and 48 oral maxillofacial surgeons.

They compared The Big Five between the groups and UK general population norms. These were the main points in the data.

  • Orthodontists had a higher conscientious score than General Dentists by 0.23 points.
  • Dental nurses had a higher conscientious score of 0.28 higher than General Dentists.
  • Dental nurses had a mean agreeableness score of 0.16 points higher than orthodontists (95% CI, 0.05-0.27; P 5 0.002) and 0.30 points higher than OMFSs (95% CI, 0.10-0.50; P <0.001).
  • Dental nurses had a mean neuroticism score of 0.21 points higher than orthodontists (95% CI, 0.06-0.36; P 5 0.002) and 0.43 points higher than OMFSs (95% CI, 0.16-0.70; P <0.001).
  • GDPs had a mean neuroticism score 0.43 points higher than OMFSs (95% CI, 0.14-0.71; P < 0.001).

The effect sizes for the significant differences in conscientiousness, agreeableness, and neuroticism among occupations were d = 0.45, 0.39, and 0.35, respectively. To contextualise the size of these differences the authors gave examples of other associations quantified using the same effect size metric. They cite the effect of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs on pain as d = 0.24, and men tend to weigh more than women as d = 0.52. This gives some idea of the size of the differences in personality between the occupations.

When they compared the personalities to the UK population, they found that all four occupations had higher conscientiousness scores than the population. Whereas they all had lower neuroticism scores lower than the UK means.

They looked at the data using a regression analysis to control for group characteristics differences. They found

  • Each year increase in age was associated with a marginal rise in conscientiousness.
  • Being female was associated with an increase in conscientiousness compared to males.
  • The OMFSs had the lowest level of neuroticism, and this may reflect the stress of potential surgery that could result in catastrophe.

Their final conclusion was:

“The personalities of dental nurses, GDPs, orthodontists, and OMFSs differed. Occupation was associated with differences in personality after accounting for demographic characteristics”.

What did I think?

This was a good study. It was certainly more unusual than the standard orthodontic study. As a result, I found it very interesting. The authors drew attention to some shortcomings. These were that they couldn’t calculate a response rate because they did not know how many people were approached in their social media campaign.

Furthermore, we must assume that those who replied were social media users, which is bound to lead to some response bias. However, we do not know the direction of this bias. As a result, there is some uncertainty in the data.

I asked the lead author to let me have their impression of the main findings. They replied and stated.

“Individuals low in neuroticism tend to handle criticism and pressure well, those high in agreeableness have a proclivity to cooperate and get along with others and those high in conscientiousness prefer structure, order and strive for task completion. It is self-evident why one may wish to select for these traits when recruiting and building teams”.

Perhaps more importantly

“It is readily apparent why highly neurotic medics would not elect to be surgeons and would not fare well in the operating theatre. Those lacking in conscientiousness and its related trait orderliness are unlikely to be found in orthodontics. An occupation that places things in their proper place at its core. Finally, the working dynamic between clinician and assistant will likely be selected for dental nurses with the cooperative temperament of those high in agreeableness.

What is unknown and merits further investigation is whether more agreeable individuals make better dental nurses, conscientious individuals make better orthodontists or those lowest in neuroticism excel as surgeons. Readers may intuit their answers to these questions, but more research is needed”.

Finally, this study gave us interesting and logical information about our personalities. It would be great to see further research into this area.

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