Thursday Troubleshooter: This dentist is breaking the law, what can assistant do?

This dental assistant does not want to lose her job by turning in the dentist, but this dentist is clearly breaking the law and putting patients and staff at risk. What can she do?

Dec 18th, 2014
Threatening Dentist

QUESTION: I’m a dental assistant with over five years of experience. I have worked as a floor supervisor for eight months since I started at this office. As a supervisor I’ve seen numerous cases of malpractice to patients ­– dental assistants cementing permanent crowns, RDAs taking final impressions, all the assistants doing prophylaxis, dental assistants adjusting dentures, and assistants packing cord. I’ve taken this matter to the office manager, who says we need to stop doing these procedures, but the managing dentist pressures the assistants, including me, to do these procedures we’ve been told not to do, and then takes revenge when we try to avoid these procedures. How does he take revenge? When we’re late, or take a bit too much time for break, or take too long for X-rays, we get a talk from the office manager. We have tons of patients come back for retakes for impressions for permanent crowns, or to have their dentures refit. The list goes on. Can you please tell me what I can do? This is a corporate dental office, and the offending dentist has been with the company for 20-plus years and has a long list of offenses, and surprisingly he’s still with the company. I’m afraid to report him. What should I do?

ANSWER FROM LYNNE LEGGETT,Victory Dental Management:
Wow, that is quite a situation you’re in. After reading your email, your first concern should be for the safety of the patients. You are rightly concerned and have some options. You mentioned you have already spoken to the office manager and were told to stop performing certain procedures that are not legal for you to execute. Obviously, you’re aware of your legal responsibilities and do not want to be in violation of your state law. You can refuse to do these procedures, report the dentist, look for other employment, or a combination of these options. This kind of environment is obviously not conducive for a professional dental assistant. I wish you luck with this situation.

ANSWER FROM BRIDGET FAY, Senior Consultant, Odyssey Management, Inc.:
Your situation definitely sounds stressful. I think it’s time for some soul-searching and deciding whether or not this is a good fit for you. If you report the doctor, you could be looking at exposure and losing your job. In addition, retaliation is not only bad for you emotionally, but the doctor could try and hurt your career. If you quietly walk away from this dangerous situation, you will probably be thankful that you didn’t get involved.

If you do in fact want to turn in the doctor to the Board of Dentistry in your state, wait until after you’ve left. He IS being reckless, and what he’s doing is just plain wrong. You’ll be much better off spending time in a place that does not treat its employees like you’re being treated. Here are some options you should consider: If you work for a corporation, see if there is someone in upper management that you can contact anonymously. If you’re not comfortable with this, start looking for another job, stat. Get in contact with a local staffing company and see if they’re in need of qualified assistants. Bottom line – this is not a healthy work environment and you should leave as soon as possible.

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