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December 2018--Dental assistants can be the unsung heroes of a dental practice. In ways big and small, they contribute to the company's overall success, whether in a private practice, group practice, or dental service organization (DSO). 

Both dentists and dental assistants will relate to this discussion about the tension that can occur between them.


One of the problems dental assistants face is the tension between clinical care team members while the patient is in the chair. Unfortunately, this is a chronic problem that doesn’t seem to be getting better in a lot of practices around the country.

We’ll now dive into what most successful dental assistants do, how dental assisting can improve the overall patient experience, and how to ease the tension between dentists, dental assistants, and dental hygienists as well.

Table Of Contents

The Dental Patient’s Perception of Care Team Tension

The Dental Assistant’s Perception of Care Team Tension

How To Be a Better Dental Assistant? Personality Traits & Skills

Dentist and Dental Assistant Relationship: Professional Behavior to Maintain and Restore Trust

The Dental Patient’s Perception of Care Team Tensionlack of trust

We know from our life experiences that if employees of a business are not getting along in front of us, we sense it. Likewise, dental patients feel the tension and readily pick up on cues of disagreement or displeasure between dental team members. 

Just imagine if you are a patient in the dental chair and the dentist and the assistant are not precisely on the same page and verbally or non-verbally are letting each other know this. You become uncomfortable on a whole new level. You think:

  • Is this dentist competent?
  • Why are dentists so rude to assistants? 
  • Is the dentist making a mistake? 
  • Why didn’t they foresee this happening?
  • I’m already nervous…now this? 
  • I’m glad I don’t work here. 
  • Maybe I made a mistake coming here? 
  • I can’t wait for this to be over.

The Dental Assistant’s Perception of Care Team Tension

Dentist and Dental Assistant tension

Within teams, personalities may clash. Sometimes an assistant’s focus wanders. Sometimes poor communication results in a dental assistant being unprepared to respond to the dentist’s instructions accurately, swiftly, and smoothly. 

Maybe technology fails… a battery or light bulb needs changing. Perhaps a required dental instrument is not on the tray. 

Maybe an assistant’s arm or neck becomes fatigued…they are experiencing back pain… any number of ergonomic stresses can result in less-than-perfect performance. 

But when they are chastised (often unjustifiably), trust in the doctor-assistant relationship deteriorates.

I hear of many instances of dental assistants being degraded in front of the patient, called names, and even dentists throwing instruments. Pent-up frustration is usually at the root. 

But from the dental assistant’s perspective, the blame for this frustration has been shifted to them. Perhaps, they feel responsible and need to focus more and “pick up their game,” but usually, they feel shamed and unappreciated.

How To Be a Better Dental Assistant? Personality Traits & Skills

How can dental assistants get better at their job?

That includes a variety of things. Here are some dental assistant skills that will help you improve yourself as a dental assistant:

Effective communication

Because you will most likely contact patients, dentists you assist, and other support personnel throughout the day, it is beneficial to understand how to communicate with each of these groups.

Good communication comprises the ability to communicate or write what you mean successfully, as well as the ability to listen to what others are saying.

Here are some examples:

  • Interpret how a patient injured their tooth so that you can inform the dentist.
  • Communicate with the dentist while they are performing a procedure to ensure you are assisting as needed.
  • Inform a dental hygienist about what a dentist has said a patient should do.
  • Take detailed notes on each patient you help based on your observations and what the dentist says so that other staff members understand what is happening.

Take the initiative

Being proactive necessitates attention to detail and understanding the needs of others around you, all of which are necessary for a dental assistant.

For example, if a dentist with whom you work prefers certain types of instruments set up for a specific procedure in a way that works best with their workflow, being aware of this and setting up the instruments accordingly without being asked demonstrates that you are aware of their needs and processes.

Improve your collaboration

In dental offices, a dental assistant is a member of a larger dental team. You may work with numerous dentists, other dental assistants, dental hygienists, and administrative support staff, such as office managers and receptionists, depending on the size of the clinic.

As you can see, dental assistants work closely to pretty much the entire team, and because the work you do as a dental assistant frequently impacts the other team members, it's critical that you value effective collaboration.

Being open to the ideas of others in the team is one of the most crucial parts of improved collaboration.

You could work with other dental assistants on the team to better grasp each dentist's preferences if you rotate between working with several dentists.

As a result, if all dental assistants share information, you will all perform better.

Take care of yourself

Being a dental assistant frequently entails standing for prolonged amounts of time and walking between exam rooms and other areas of the clinic, in addition to other physical responsibilities. 

This is why, among other things, self-care is crucial for dental assistants.

You want to be awake, organized, and ready to serve each workday. Self-care can help you with these things because if you're getting adequate rest and taking care of yourself, you'll be able to be more productive at work.

Caring for oneself entails taking care of your own career. That includes, as previously stated, establishing a plan and being conscious of what is essential to you at work. 

In addition to the personal rewards, taking care of oneself in all aspects assists you in being a better employee and team member.

Request feedback

Asking for feedback from those you work with is one of the best ways to grow and improve as a dental assistant. This could refer to the dentists you assist, the patients you treat, or coworkers with whom you collaborate.

This could be done formally with patient comment cards, but it is most typically done spontaneously through conversation.

Asking the dentists you work with if there is anything different you can do to be helpful, asking patients how to improve the experience for them, and asking your other coworkers how to collaborate with them are all examples of ways to get input that can improve your work performance.

It's crucial to remember that taking and acting on feedback is essential. If you accept feedback but do not incorporate it into your work, you will not improve.

Dentist and Dental Assistant Relationship: Professional Behavior to Maintain and Restore Trust

The “shame and blame dynamic” in the dentist and dental assistant relationship damages patient trust. Unprofessional behavior is unacceptable in any workplace.

In a dental practice, unprofessional behavior between colleagues can do more than make co-workers feel belittled. It can make the patient feel so uncomfortable they never return to your practice.

Set Proper Mindset

Make sure you are thinking of that customer first, and if something is going on that you need to talk about or get off your chest, there is a time and place for it.

Recognize what is at the root of the problem and vow to talk through tension and behaviors that need improvement.

Observe Yourself Closely

Dentists, please observe how often you blame a dental assistant, a front desk team member, or your lab technician for problems that arise every day in a dental practice. 

Mentally note that stresses on your time, energy, and finances make missteps, no-shows, and uncooperative patients seem like monumental problems. Take a beat to respond appropriately instead of reacting emotionally. 

Dental assistants, please observe how you are part of the problem. Take note of what you need to do differently going forward. Understand the stress and tension the dentist is feeling, even if you are not to blame. Try not to take things personally.

Communicate Appropriately

For a clinical team to be a team, there needs to be open communication between dentists and their dental assistants. 

Make sure you are always open and honest with each other in the right way at the right time and place. Always be careful about what you say and how you behave in front of patients.

Protect the Patient Relationship

Conversations to clear the air and correct course should never occur while the patient is in the room. It should happen when the dentist and dental assistant are calm and can listen to each other respectfully. 

You can constructively clear the air, share perspectives, and pass on the knowledge that will help the practice run more smoothly.

Final Thoughts

Respect and appreciation are two qualities of healthy teamwork you can awaken and mindfully practice. 

Most dental assistants, dentists, and whoever works at a dental practice will benefit greatly if there’s good communication between the team.

At the same time, every team member needs to be on the same page that the dental practice is a business that will only thrive with excellent personal relations among team members and patients. 

The bottom line is it cannot be a “you are wrong, and I am right.” It has got to be a case of what is best for your dental practice and your customers. 

Although these conversations are difficult, as the leader within the practice, take the initiative and lead by saying, “We need to talk about this and get it out in the open so it doesn't happen again.”

Staffing a dental team is difficult with a shortage of well-trained and experienced dental assistants available to hire. Developing a healthy, collaborative relationship will enable the dentist and dental assistant to flourish.

Patient Prism's call tracking software for dentistry helps your practice achieve excellent personal relations among team members and patients.

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