Words of warning from a fellow dentist

May 3, 2010

By Bradley A. Dykstra, DDS, MBA

Very often, unusual things happen when you least expect them. With gold well over $1,000 an ounce, it pays to be extra watchful during these economically challenging times. Yes, people are desperate and will stoop to almost any level, even in our dental families.

A few months I experienced something for the first time in 32 years of practice that really caught me off guard. It began one day when we were going to seat a full gold crown, and when we went to cement it, the crown was not in the lab box. This seemed strange since we check each case in when it arrives at the office. But sometimes things get missed so this raised no red flags. We called the lab to let them know the crown was not in the box and encouraged them to be on the lookout for any similar cases, just in case there was any theft going on at the lab. It never occurred to me that it could be someone in my own office. We have a staff of 13, but we are truly a family and we all inherently trust each other.

The models were returned to the lab and we paid to have another crown made. About a week later, this scenario was repeated, and this time I knew the gold crown was in the box when it arrived at the office because I had checked it myself. It finally registered with me that someone in the office was stealing them. (Yes, I admit I’m a slow learner.) I knew in my gut that it was not one of the regular staff members, because they are a trustworthy group and certainly had too much to lose.

At this time we had a dental assistant intern (who came highly recommended by her school) working in our office. It was ironic that the intern who had perfect attendance for two months was sick that day and the two days following the second incident. At this point several team members reported that she filled up her purse with candy every day before she left. (We had just completed a Halloween candy buyback in the community and had over 200 pounds of candy to send to the troops overseas.)

We alerted the police of our suspicions. They took a report of the theft and said they would check into it. Meanwhile, the staff came up with a great plan should the intern return. We created our own sting. Our plan was, we would have another full gold crown case in with the other cases ready for cementation in the afternoon (the intern worked 8 a.m. to noon) and see if we could catch her red-handed.

The following day, the intern showed up for work not suspecting that we were on to her. (Yes, it’s hard to believe that she would think we would not miss gold crowns when we went to cement them and they were no longer in the box.) We had the one full gold crown case in the cabinet along with all the other cases (full porcelain). Just before the intern was ready to leave, the office manager called her into her office to review her performance and discuss the schedule for the next few weeks. Another staff member checked the box and guess what? The gold crown was missing.

When the police arrived, they interviewed the intern, who initially denied everything. After a lengthy discussion/interrogation, the intern finally admitted to the office manager and officer that she had taken the crown, and the officer found it in her car.

In the following investigation, it was learned that her boyfriend had turned in the crowns, along with a few other pieces, for cash at a storefront gold buyback place. At this point I checked the container where we kept all of the scrap gold and remnants of failed crowns and bridges. Surprise — also empty. We discovered later that a few of our sample crowns we use as demonstration models were also missing.

Yes, I did have a reality check. Everyone is not totally honest. I should have had better safeguards on the scrap gold storage. We did have a system to check each lab case when it arrived at the office, although now we document and monitor it much more thoroughly.

I would suggest that as practice owners you understand the lengths desperate people will go to in order to feed a habit, or possibly even survive. I leave you with the following three suggestions:
1. Make sure any gold, scrap gold, or other easily saleable items are kept in a secure place, inventoried, and monitored.
2. Make sure there is a foolproof system to check in all lab work as it arrives.
3. Never assume that these types of events happen only to other people.

Dr. Bradley Dykstra is a general dentist in private practice in Hudsonville, Mich. A graduate of the University of Michigan's dental school, he earned his MBA from Grand Valley State University. He speaks on integrating technology into dentistry, and consults via his company, Anchor Dental Consulting. Reach him at [email protected] or at (616) 669-6600.