Aim: To assess reasons for premature retirement among practising dentists and to evaluate their association with occupational stress. Design: Retrospective analysis. Setting: Records from one organisation operating in the private medical sickness industry in the UK. Materials: Reasons for premature retirement of 393 dentists due to illness between 1981 and 1992. Results: The most frequent causes of premature retirement were musculoskeletal disorders (29.5%), cardiovascular disease (21.1%), and neurotic symptoms (16.5%). 82.7% of cases examined were in the > 50 years age group. Conclusions: Musculoskeletal disorders and stress related illnesses were the two most important groups which influenced premature retirement.