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Angry Dental Staff

Troubleshooter: DAs say dentist disrespects them; another won’t let them do their jobs

Jan. 30, 2023
The working environments are not ideal for these dental assistants: one can't get the dentist to let her do her work, and the other works for a dentist who's downright mean.

Editor's note: These dental assistants reached out through Troubleshooter for help with their less-than-ideal work situations. Tija Hunter, a dental assistant who travels the nation to lecture to and guide her peers, has seen a lot through the years. She offers her advice.

Question: I was a dental assistant for three years, then I was out if the field for five years. I recently took a new DA position because I want to get back into the field. The doctor is very nice, but he doesn't communicate anything with me. I’ve been with the office for three months and he still doesn't allow me to actually assist or do much of anything on my own. He often sends me to the sterilization room. At first, I thought this was because he wanted me to learn that area thoroughly, which I have. But now it seems like if I don’t do something fast enough or get something done exactly right, he won’t allow me to keep trying. How can I learn if I’m not allowed to do the work? I’m frustrated and I don’t know if he’s going to let me go, if he doesn’t have faith in me, or if he’s just taking his time teaching me the office.

Answer from Tija Hunter, CDA, EFDA
Unfortunately, your situation is not uncommon. I’ve found that many doctors are very regimented and have a hard time bending and going with the flow when something isn't done just right. Not all dentists are good teachers, so this is hard for them. Trust me when I say, if he cannot communicate these things with you, he's not a good communicator in other areas of his life.

So what do you do? I think you need to initiate a talk with him. Start with any of these ideas: "Doctor, do you have any suggestions for things I need to work on?” “I feel like I've got sterilization down. What other tasks can I take on?" "Doctor, would it be OK if I started doing XXX?” "I'd like to start doing more. What other things can I work on?” Don't come at him negatively: “You won't let me do this or that.” He may just need to know you’re confident, so approach him in a positive manner, and hopefully he’ll be able to communicate better with you and give you more to do.

In any case, don't give up. Sometimes the doctors who are the hardest to crack are the best to work for once you’re both in sync. Best of luck! 

More Troubleshooters from dental assistants

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Question: I want to know if is there’s any legal action we as dental assistants can take when we’re talked down to by the doctor in front of patients? We’re made to look as if we’re stupid, ignorant, and beneath the doctor. He’s also been known to close the door and not let one DA out of the room and then yell in her face. Help!

Answer: First of all, I’m very sorry you have to go through this; nobody deserves to be treated that way. I always say if you disrespect me in front of a patient, I will come back at you. I don’t come back in a hateful way, but simply by saying, "Please don't speak to me that way." Or with, "Doctor, I don't deserve to be spoken to in that manner." I think that makes a person feel worse than if you reply in the combative way that they spoke to you. Remember, always remain professional, even when they don't. 

However, closing the door and not allowing someone out of the room is a little more serious. I believe that could get the doctor in legal trouble. Detaining someone without their permission and holding them against their will is illegal. 

With accusations like these, I would recommend documenting it all and making your state dental board aware of these concerns. If you do this, the board will have no choice but to investigate.  

In the meantime, keep your chin up. Of course, not all employers are like this. I’ve worked with some amazing people, so I know they’re out there. Look for a better place, one that will respect you for the awesome person you are!

If you have a question regarding any aspect of your work environment, send it to Troubleshooter via [email protected]. We'll send it to an expert who can help.