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

June 10, 2021
Tempers are running hot at this practice. The hygienist has tried numerous approaches, including asking the dentist for help, but to no avail. What can be done to calm everyone?

Nearly everyone has problems and concerns on the job, and sometimes you're just too close to a situation to solve something yourself. Share your concerns with us, and we'll examine the issues and provide guidance. Send questions to [email protected]. To view more Troubleshooters, visit and search "Troubleshooter."

QUESTION: Our office operates without an office manager or supervisor. My issue is between the hygienists 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 he 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 Office Manager Digest, also provided an answer in a 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.

Originally posted in 2016 and updated regularly


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About the Author

Team Troubleshooter

This weekly column on DentistryIQ features questions from everyday people who work in dental practices, who have issues they would like addressed by the experts. Those who regularly take the time to answer questions include Rebecca Boartfield, Patti DiGangi, Dr. Chris Salierno, Laura Hatch, Karen Daw, Jill Townsend, Lisa Marie Spradley, Shelley Renee, Judy Kay Mausolf, Robin Morrison, Paul Edwards ... and the list is growing.

Send your question or issue for an expert to address to [email protected].. You'll be glad you did.