Heglund Team Dynamics

'Lord-orhea': The mysterious disease afflicting dental practice teams

Jan. 18, 2018
You've never heard of this "disease," but we're certain you know it well. Do you have team members that seem to love exercising power over others in the form of manipulation and obstruction, seemingly for the sheer fun of it? Most dental hygienists and dental practices do. Here are one hygienist's thoughts on this issue.

Sabrina P. Heglund, PhD

In his book about leadership, John W. Gardner defines power as “simply the capacity to bring about certain intended consequences in the behavior of others.” (1) Of course, we can argue whether such power is good or bad, morally speaking. But an analysis of the “intended consequences” is what determines if a leader’s power is good or bad. We can all cite instances of good power and bad power as demonstrated in human behavior. However, not all people are leaders or even intend to wield power.

There are those in our immediate circle of coworkers or acquaintances who do not hold positions of power, but desire to bring about specified consequences in the behavior of others. For example, these consequences may be making another coworker wait for an important document, or having another coworker scrambling to find a solution, when this person, the “power-wielder,” could actually solve the problem. What can this be termed? Lordorhea? Alright, it’s a foolish malapropism, but it bears consideration. Power is wielded by a “lord,” while pyorrhea (an outdated term for periodontitis) is directly related to a bad-smelling disease of the oral cavity that offends others.

The actions of this type of person may range from being verbally aggressive to even overly passive in nature. For different outcomes, differing postures may have to be enacted. In the case of aggressive posturing, the person may offer heated words to simple requests. On the other hand, a passive posture may state that the simple granting of a request does not really lie in this person’s hands. Both actions may cause the requestor to give pause and change strategies to achieve his or her request. The person with the affliction of lordorhea has then gotten out of fulfilling the request by bringing about a change in behavior in the requestor. This is a simple description of a complex issue. The very nature of a human to think this way may be attributed to the complex workings of the human brain.

As an observer of life, I have absolutely no idea of why this happens so often, and it is one issue that I would like to understand. What makes a person do this? Why do they do this? Why complicate another person’s life? Does it cause them pleasure? Does it go against the old adage of “do unto others as you would have done to you”?

At a very simplistic level of coming to an understanding of this behavior, I would like to submit one reason: delusions of grandeur, the belief that you are more important or powerful than you really are. Belief of one’s superiority might be a consolation to those who could not otherwise attain such status. Suppression of such a belief may be necessary in the workplace. After all, human interaction in general holds team playing as a norm. It may well be that having this belief allows the person suffering with lordorhea an opportunity to actually be superior and change another’s behavior without actually having to deal with the responsibilities of true leadership. It is a covertly exciting place to be! It shows power in an otherwise powerless person.

In any team, persons afflicted with lordorhea may be expressing these behaviors subconsciously. Issues such as this can undermine an otherwise smoothly operating team of professionals. If only the lordorhea sufferer (for example, an office assistant,) knows where the printer toner is ordered from, a team member may then spend an inordinate amount of time looking for an invoice or asking other staff members if they remember when the last order was placed. This is time lost that could be better spent on other things.

Overall, the team loses forward momentum in loss of productive activities while the afflicted person gains a brief period of reveling in his or her power over others. This is destructive for the whole team. Undermining someone else’s self -esteem may ultimately be the goal of the sufferer.

It would be interesting to discuss this idea in a forum. Additionally, it maybe enlightening to reflect on these comments and see if they pertain to you or to someone you work with. It is amazing what we humans can and will do given the opportunity to do so. When we allow this to happen, could we be thought of as enablers to a chronic disease and be responsible for human interaction breakdown of our teams? It bears consideration.

Editor's note: This article first appeared in RDH eVillage. Click here to subscribe.


1. Gardner JW. On Leadership. New York: The Free Press; 55-66.

Sabrina P. Heglund, PhD, is a member of the College of Registered Dental Hygienists of Alberta. She has provided continuing care to patients in general and periodontal practices in Edmonton and Vancouver. Sabrina continues to support the profession of dental hygiene in various capacities. She is married and boasts of having three grandchildren who spoil her.