Dental assistant advice: What to do when you believe the dentist is negligent

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The author says a dental assistant needs to ask if this is something truly that needs to be addressed. If so, then it’s his or her duty to see it through.

Over the last few years when speaking to dental assistants (and sometimes after writing an article that appears in Modern Dental Assistant), dental assistants will contact me about a very touchy subject … and what they can do about it.

Recently, I received an email from a very frustrated dental assistant who says that her doctor is “surprisingly incompetent, uncoordinated and so underhanded and mistrustful that it physically makes me sick.” This poor assistant is so distraught that she says she wants to tell patients to “RUN FOR THE HILLS!!”

Many years ago, I too worked for a dentist who was so grossly negligent that I actually thought that I had to work there. I felt it was my responsibility to be there for those patients. I finally left after I simply couldn’t take what was happening. A few years later, that doctor took a mysterious leave, moved away and gave up the dental license. I will never know what happened. I am, however, grateful that this person will never touch a patient again. 

I hear many things like, “My doctor gives out wrong information to patients”, “We don’t follow infection control protocol at all”, and “I’m preforming illegal duties but I need my job.” They all want to know what they can do. Who can they call for help?

Now, I wasn’t born yesterday and I do realize that there are two sides to a story. I also know many dental assistants who misdiagnose all the time. Yes, we have seen it done a bazillion times but that doesn’t mean we know it all. Take Facebook for instance. Someone will make a post on a dental assisting site asking what “this” is, and 50 different answers all come up! As assistants, please remember that we are not legally able to diagnose. However, we aren’t stupid either. We witness or have witnessed negligence all the time, in the form of treatment, infection control, and/or HIPAA.

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Far too many times, I hear those words that make me cringe, “Well, that’s the way we’ve always done it.” YIKES! I used to wear bell bottom pants and bright blue eyeshadow and the mullet used to be a fashion statement. Thank God some things have changed. We simply can’t do things the way we used to do them. Times change. Our industry is changing and we have to change with it.


Advice from Tija continues on page 2...


So what can we do if our doctor is the one who isn’t compliant? We can report a co-worker, but what if the doctor is the root of the problem? Looking for a new job is the short answer … but what do you do if you feel that’s not enough? What can you do for those patients? Unfortunately, you’re not going to like my answer … and it’s the reason why this sort of thing is allowed to happen in towns all across America. It’s the reason why this thing is shoved under the rug and not spoken of. You have to go to the dental board in your state and report the doctor. Document, document, document. When you feel there is something wrong happening in your practice, you must document it completely.

The dental board doesn’t want a doctor practicing if he or she is found to be negligent for any reason. Remember Dr. Scott Harrington in Oklahoma? This man had been practicing for years and was so grossly negligent on several levels. That case brought new legislation in Oklahoma (and I’m sure in other states as well). These doctors aren’t treated with kid gloves. The dental boards take this sort of thing seriously. Let the public get ahold of this and all of a sudden you’re on the five o’clock news.

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It’s not reported because the people doing the reporting are afraid. They’re afraid of the backlash and afraid of having to go to court should charges be brought. They’re afraid of never working in an industry they love again because they don’t know who would hire them after that. They don’t want their name brought up so it’s easier to leave and find another job than it is to go through that. That’s the sad part.

So ask yourself if this is something truly that needs to be addressed. If so, then it’s your duty to see it through. If you’re unhappy because you work for Dr. Grumpy, then you may want to go find another job. Trust me when I say, there are many, many amazing doctors out there. They value your skills. They put their patients and their teams first and they want nothing but the best for both of you. Don’t waste your life being miserable. It simply isn’t worth it.

Editor's Note: Photo KieferPix/