Aim The aim of this project was, by means of a questionnaire to ill health retirees, to determine the factors which have contributed to the premature retirement of general dental practitioners (GDPs) due to ill health. Methods A questionnaire was designed to determine the effects of illness and ill health retirement (IHR) on the lives of those dentists who were affected. This was distributed to 207 dentists who were known to have retired because of ill health but were not suffering from serious, debilitating or life-threatening illnesses. Results A total of 189 questionnaires were returned. The mean age at retirement of respondents was 51.5 years, with a range of 31 to 62 years. Of the respondents, 90% selected general dental practitioner as their last job title. The most common cause of IHR was musculoskeletal disorders (55%), followed by mental and behavioural disorders (28%). A majority of respondents (90%) considered that their ill health was work related. Sixty-three percent of respondents stated that they were able to keep working until their retirement, 34% of respondents stated that they would have liked to have been offered part-time work as an alternative to full retirement, and 27% of dentists reported to have found re-employment since their retirement. In univariate analyses, re-employment of dentists after IHR was significantly associated with age, having dependants, cause of IHR, health having improved and wanting to work again. Multiple logistic regression analyses showed that a combination of age, having dependents and cause of IHR was predictive of re-employment status (p = 0.024). Conclusion This study used a database of dentists who were ill health retired and who were not suffering from life threatening illnesses The results confirmed that the majority were able to work up to their retirement and a similar number would have liked to continue working, particularly if part-time work had been possible. It seems likely that many of the ill health retirees could have been retained in the dental workforce with better support or opportunities for more flexible working.