Thursday Troubleshooter: Dentist won't get involved in messy staff issues

Conflicts and tempers are running hot at this dental practice. This RDH has tried numerous approaches, including asking the dentist for help, to no avail. What can be done to change mean dental assistant?

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Do you have a tough issue in your dental office that you would like addressed? Each week the experts on Team Troubleshooter will tackle those issues and provide you with answers. Send questions to

QUESTION: Our office operates without an office manager or supervisor. My issue is between the RDHs and a dental assistant. This assistant has no respect for the hygienists. She gets away with bullying. She leaves the hygienists' instrument kits in the sterilizing area so that the hygienists are left without instruments. She makes rude comments about the RDHs, sucks up to the dentist, and much more.

This has been going on for years and has been brought to the dentist's attention, yet the dentist refuses to address the issue. I held a meeting with the assistant to try to talk with her, but she basically yelled at me, which she did with other hygienists who also tried to talk with her. I've resorted to ignoring her but the dirty looks and rude comments are getting worse. I've considered leaving the office but I live in a small town and there are no other employment opportunities in the area. Do I go to the worker's board and make a formal complaint? I'm feeling pretty hopeless.

First let me say that I'm sorry you work in this type of environment with someone like this. Unfortunately, in the dental industry, there are a lot of offices with scenarios like this and when not addressed, it can really have a serious effect on the team, the patients, and patient care.

Many times this issue happens between departments too, between hygienists and assistants or between front desk and back office teams. I think this usually stems from people not feeling like others understand what they do, or employees worrying too much about what others are doing rather than what they should be doing.

I actually answered a Troubleshooter question recently that was very similar to your situation. I suggest you read my answer and make sure you have done all I suggested to her. It sounds like you have tried the first one, sit down and have a one-on-one with this assistant. Now you need to ask yourself when she started feeling this way toward you. And finally, talk with the doctor again. Perhaps he'll get the message if you and other team members approach him with the issue often. Read my entire answer here. Good luck!

KYLE SUMMERFORD, editor of Dental Assisting & Office Manager Digest and founder of DDSGuru, also provided an answer in the similar situation:
He suggested that in power struggles like this it's a good idea to request a staff meeting. He believes that these meetings lead to the discussion of issues amongst the masses. Staff meetings bring matters to the forefront and help everyone in the office understand each other’s concerns. This can be done when one-on-one meetings do not work, which is the case with you and this assistant. Read Kyle's entire answer here.

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Send your questions for the experts to answer. Responses will come from various consultants, many of whom are associated with Speaking Consulting Network, Academy of Dental Management Consultants, Dental Consultant Connection, and other expert dental support and human resources organizations. Their members take turns fielding your questions on DentistryIQ, because they are very familiar with addressing the tough issues. Hey, it's their job.

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