Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2018 06 Bullying 1

Dental assistants share their stories about being bullied

June 19, 2018
Dental Assisting Digest editor Kevin Henry asked dental assistants to share your stories about bullying. You did, and these are heartbreaking stories of bullies making the lives of others miserable.
Kevin Henry, Cofounder,

This article originally appeared in Dental Assisting Digest e-newsletter. Subscribe to this informative monthly ENL designed specifically for the dental assistant here.

Bullying is an awful thing. It’s by no means new, but it certainly seems like it’s become more prominent in recent years.


With the advent of social media, you no longer have to tell people to their faces how dumb they are or how imperfect their looks might be (in your opinion). You can now sit behind a keyboard and tell anyone, anywhere exactly how misguided they are for their religious or political beliefs, or even which sports team they support.

The topic of bullying in the dental practice has struck a chord with the readers of Dental Assisting Digest. For three months, my friend Natalie Kaweckyj and I have been writing about the effects of bullying in the dental practice and discussing the toll it can take on dental assistants.

Bullying in dentistry: Is it getting worse? What can you do?
Characteristics of a workplace bully. Do you know one?

At the end of last month’s article, I asked those who were willing to share their stories of bullying in the practice with me by sending me an email. Many of you did just that, and I can’t thank you enough for your honesty and willingness to share.

What you wrote is raw and heartbreaking. You shared head-shaking stories that make me wonder just how people can treat others this way. These are some of the sentences that stood out the most to me.

In the beginning, it was not personal. After a while, I became the target and it became abuse, pure and simple.

I put up with it for a long time because I was a single adult trying to make ends meet, living on my own, and every time I thought about leaving the bully would settle down for a while, give me a pay raise, and move on like normal.

During the time I worked for this dentist, job openings would come along with various other dentists in our area. Several times I interviewed for a position, only to be told I was an excellent dental assistant who possessed the job skills they were searching for. They then told me they did not want to hire me away from this other guy for fear of repercussions.

When I got married, I began to understand that I did not have to take this kind of abuse, and I took a stand for myself. But instead of it getting better, the bullying got worse.

Our boss would throw instruments, impressions, or whatever was in his hands at the moment at us. He would swipe a counter clean with his hand, leaving a mess for us to deal with in his wake.

I was currently the only one the boss treated in this manner. One of the other women told me he used to get into screaming and door slamming matches with her. She would leave the office and go home and come back hours later and they would act like nothing happened. I tried leaving the office and coming back later, and it did not work the same for me as it did for her.

He grabbed a #12 blade out of my hand and gave my thumb a laceration about two-inches long. He never apologized or acknowledged that he had done this.

I would be standing in the lab working and he would come through and physically push me in the upper shoulder as if I were in his way. One of the staff members actually witnessed this, but would not be a witness to the incident.

The boss would call us names. He would tell us we had brain tumors. He kept telling me I needed hearing aids and that I was deaf and could not hear him, even though it was he who would mumble.

Bullying happens. Bullying can take many forms. And it can also easily happen between assistant and assistant. Here are some more examples.

After our patient left and we were all cleaning the room so we could go to lunch, someone made a comment about how the other two assistants have blonde hair and could pass for relatives. That being said, Assistant A said that her and Assistant B would have been loved by Hitler and that they would have survived, but I would not have survived under Hitler. (I have brown hair, by the way.)

At what point are comments like this OK? And how bullying from the front desk toward the assistant, the classic “front versus back” confrontation?

She was the person who showed all the red flags of embezzling from the practice for most of my time there, which probably explained why she bullied those who might figure out what she was doing. Patients would ask why their cash payments were not posted and tell us they had not received a receipt. This person spent most of her time finding ways to make the rest of us do her job, and if we couldn't she would find ways to make us regret it. She always had an answer. I knew better than to approach the doctor about what was being said by other employees and patients because for some reason unbeknownst to the rest of us, he favored her. After she succeeded having a second employee fired, she left a Post-it note on her desk where I would see it that said, "One down, one to go.” Pretty subtle, as the doctor never figured out what that was all about.

I could go on and on, but this is now long in the past and I hear she has finally retired. The blessing from my firing is that it gave me six weeks to care for my terminally ill mother and then take care of my father in his last years. I thought that job was more important than my family and I would have had a lifetime of regret if I hadn't been fired. That said, I do miss the practice and patients.

Apparently, I'm still shell-shocked even after seven years by how her treatment of me and other staff members had been allowed to continue by the boss’s inaction. If I could, I would thank him for firing me, even if was for the wrong reasons.

These are just some of the stories that you all sent to me. I read them often and think about how cruel some people can be, and how those people made life miserable for so many assistants.

Of course, I know these are not the only stories out there. I know there are plenty about verbal abuse, throwing instruments, and comments about a person’s looks or race.

As always, my advice is straightforward if you’re going through this. If you’re being bullied, have an honest and adult conversation with that person about how he or she is treating you. Have a conversation with the supervisor (dentist, office manager, or whoever that might be) and demand a stop to it. Document all of these conversations (when they happened, who they were with, etc.). If change happens, tremendous. If change doesn’t happen, find somewhere where you can grow and prosper in your career rather than have to dread going into work. Life is too short to dread many or all of your days.

I know not all bullies will change. I know not all bullies will back down. It is the reality of the situation. But just because someone won’t change doesn’t mean that you can’t change your environment.

Is it fair that you might have to leave a practice because of someone else’s actions? Absolutely not. However, I am less concerned about the world being fair than I am about your happiness and ability to flourish and enjoy your career.

Bullying is a tough topic to tackle. It’s a tough topic to deal with, and some of the results can be life-changing. Do yourself a favor—stand up to the bully in your practice today. Make a change for the sake of your inner joy and peace. It won’t be easy, but it’s easier than living every day with someone who is trying to make your life a living hell.

I’m always willing to hear your stories and do what I can for you. Drop me a line at [email protected] and let’s see how we can change the stars together.


Read on. This is your newsletter…

For the most current dental assistant headlines, click here.

For the most current dental headlines, click here.

About the Author

Kevin Henry | Cofounder,

With more than 20 years in the dental publishing industry, Kevin Henry is the former group editorial director for Dental Products Report and managing editor for Dental Economics. Currently, he is the editor-in-chief for He has spoken to dental assistants throughout the world, in person and through the Dental Assistant Nation podcast series, reminding them of the important role they play every day in their practice. He is also certified as a DiSC trainer, helping dental practices learn how to understand each other better through personality assessments and training.