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The Dentist and Dental Assistant Relationship

Dental assistants can be the unsung heroes of a dental practice. In ways big and small, they contribute to the overall success of the company.

Kevin Henry is a nationally-recognized advocate for dental assistants and the author of the book “Battling and Beating the Demons of Dental Assisting.” He co-founded IgniteDA.net to provide an online community for dental assistants. He is also a well-known speaker on topics that empower dental assistants, propel dental practice growth, and foster a strong relationship between the front office and back office team.

He spoke to Patient Prism’s Deborah Bush about one of the problems dental assistants may face: the tension between the dentist and dental assistant that can occur when the patient is in the chair.

This is a chronic problem,” said Kevin Henry. “Unfortunately, it's a problem that doesn't seem to be getting better in a lot of practices around the country. If employees of a business are not getting along, the customer can sense this--especially if you're in the chair and the dentist and the assistant are not exactly on the same page and verbally or non-verbally are letting each other know. That turns the experience in the dental chair into a whole other level of discomfort.”

Henry has heard of many instances of dental assistants being degraded in front of the patient, called names, and even of having instruments thrown.

“This dynamic in the dentist and dental assistant relationship damages patient trust,” said Bush, pointing out that unprofessional behavior is unacceptable in any workplace. In a dental practice, unprofessional behavior between colleagues can do more than just make the co-workers feel belittled. It can make the patient feel so uncomfortable, the person may choose to go to another dental practice instead. That would result in lost revenue.

“My advice is to always make sure that you're thinking of that customer first, and if something is going on that you need to talk about or you need to get off your chest, there's a time and place for it,” said Henry, who advocates opening the communication lines between dentists and dental assistants, and making sure that you're always open and honest with each other.

“But it's never a case of you're wrong and I'm right. No, it's got to be ‘This is what's best for business and what's best for our customers. We need to talk about this and get it out in the open, so it doesn't happen again.’”

But that conversation should never occur while the patient is in the room. It should take place when both the dentist and dental assistant are calm and can listen to each other respectfully.

On Patient Prism Academy and in Kevin Henry’s book, he dives deeper into conflict resolution strategies, and also shares proven strategies that will increase the level of respect dental assistants receive from their colleagues.

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