Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2017 08 Worried 1

Thursday Troubleshooter: Dentist asking for illegal assistance has dental assistant worried

Aug. 31, 2017
This dental assistant does not want to lose her job. She has told the dentist that as a DA she cannot legally pack cord. The dentist briefly listens, then tries to coax other assistants to perform functions their licenses do not allow.

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 Team Troubleshooter, and the experts will examine the issues and provide guidance. Send questions to [email protected].


QUESTION: I am currently working in an office that is having difficulties with a new dentist. She keeps trying to teach assistants, such as myself, how to pack cord during prep. I have told her I'm not comfortable and will not do it because as an RDA in California I am not legally allowed to do this. She stopped for a bit, but now she is trying to teach the new assistant to do it for her.

How would you recommend approaching this dilemma? We have had numerous problems with her unethical treatment decisions. I am trying to find a new position, but in the meantime, I’m worried about having my license revoked just for working in an office that has allowed this to take place. I'm not sure if that's even possible, but I don't want to risk it. Advice would be greatly appreciated!

ANSWER FROM KEVIN HENRY, cofounder of IgniteDA:
Thank you so much for asking this question. Thank you even more for knowing your state laws and what a dental assistant legally can or can’t do in your state.

Your hesitation in packing cord is justified and right on the money. There really isn’t another way to put this except this: No dental assistant should be doing anything outside the law any more than a dentist should be performing illegal procedures. If a dental assistant is truly an oral health-care professional, then he or she has an ethical right to do everything he or she can to protect patients from harm. That includes staying within the laws of your respective states.

Do you remember in 2013 when Dr. Scott Harrington became known as the “dirty dentist” in many circles? The oral surgeon from Tulsa, Oklahoma, was vilified in the media and accused of horrific infection control procedures and potentially exposing patients to a variety of diseases, including HIV and hepatitis. His career was ruined and his practice was closed. His name is still synonymous with poor ethical and business choices.

But guess what? It wasn’t just Dr. Harrington who came under scrutiny for those years of ignoring the law. His dental assistants went into hiding after it was discovered they were performing procedures that they were not allowed to do under Oklahoma law. Read more here.

Yes, the dental assistants were vilified just as much as the dentist. Do you really want to take a chance on being in this situation? It doesn’t sound like it, and that’s why your inner voice is telling you to resist packing cord or doing anything that is not allowed under California law.

Simply put, please keep refusing to do anything that is not legal. It’s important for not only your patients, but your family and your career. If this dentist is already hearing questions about her ethics, hopefully she will be out of your life (and the practice) sooner than later. If she is telling other assistants it is OK to pack cord, don’t be afraid to stand up and quote state law saying it is not. It might be an uncomfortable moment, but it’s always best to do the right thing.

I always encourage assistants to visit and click on the “Meet State Requirements” tab. There, you can find what assistants are legally allowed to do in every state. Never let a dentist tell you something is OK if you’re not sure that it is. Do your research. Know your laws and limits. Stand up when someone is trying to have you break your state’s dental laws.

As I always tell my daughter, if you don’t stand up for yourself, who else will do it? Do the right thing. Don’t cave in. You can do it.

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