Emotions in the Dental Practice

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What is the price we pay for our sensitive, caring ways?

As far back as I can remember the vast majority of dental teams have been made up of a group of females lead by a male dentist/provider. Over the years the dynamics have changed a bit, with many more female dentists at the helm and a number of males comprising the auxiliary team. However the team structure is divided, the one thing that is still constant is that the majority of the team is comprised of females. The reason we see this in our “patient treatment” industry is that the caregiver and nurturing side tends to be more prevalent in females than in males.

With this said, it should not be a surprise to know that often the blending of females in the workplace can get tricky. Emotions can run high, and insecurities will show up loud and clear. The sensitivities that exist amongst a team of females can be great, and many tend to thrive on acceptance and appreciation.

The “story lines” that come from this environment have been of great interest to me. The situations that I’ve personally experienced have been mindboggling. From the assistant who was really distraught after the patient refused to have x-rays taken, to the front office manager that could not a get a grip after the patient with her bill in hand yelled, “And you will adjust my balance NOW!”. The assistant left work early and the front office manager sat at her desk and cried for hours.

So how do we work to focus on staying cool, thinking things out and making things right before everyone’s day is ruined?

First, we must realize that “people will be people”. Then we throw in the inherent stress of a dental office environment, plus the concern the patients have for the treatment they require, and then, “And we have to pay for this?”

We now have a true dichotomy here; a double edged sword if you will. In dentistry we must be caregivers- kind, sympathetic, understanding and calm. These are all wonderful qualities that comprise the majority of all dental professionals. With this comes a sensitive, emotional, “wanting to please” persona.

Of course, these traits are not exclusive to females. Males within our industry tend to be wired much the same. This is why so many dentists “fear” telling a patient that they see a hairline fracture in the upper right first molar, and may say “Let’s just put a watch on that” rather than explain the ramifications that can occur from ignoring it and waiting for things to get worse until the tooth cracks entirely, or becomes exposed and now requires a root canal and build-up.

Why would they not take the proactive approach? Because they don’t want to be the bearer of bad things. They don’t want the patient to not like them, perhaps not keep future appointments, and most of all, leave the practice altogether.

Why? Did you cause this tooth to fracture? Was this your fault? Of course not, but their “sensitive” antenna immediately goes up and they feel the need to lessen the blow.

The dynamics and emotional blend in a dental practice is fascinating, right down to the team member that will sooner blame someone else than to admit their mistakes. I always found it refreshing to see someone raise their hand and say “Oops, I forgot to empty the garbage”, or “Yes, it was me that neglected to confirm Mrs. Smith for today.”

Honoring one’s mistakes is a great advantage when it comes to maintaining harmony and respect within a dental practice. The balancing of our emotions will not necessarily change, and mistakes will continue to be made. But how we recognize and respond to them is what will help to manage the stress we put on ourselves and the fall-out that results from the delicate emotions that we bring to the rest of the team and to the practice.

Does A Practice Overview Have Any REAL Value?


What is its advantage for the Team? What is its advantage for managing the practice?


What is a “Practice Overview”?

It is a document that includes all things pertaining to the structure, business model and inner workings of your dental practice.

What might it include?

It should include as much information as you can compile dealing with every area of the practice.


All things pertaining to the Business Office

Examples might be:

  • All team members that comprise the business office, including a breakdown of each employee’s job description
  • Software utilized
  • Business hours
  • List of all insurance products (PPO, HMO, etc.)
  • List of all vendors
  • Location of all printed materials
  • Location of supplies
  • List of all business procedures (i.e.; confirming traditionally, by email or by text?)
  • List of all specialists (if applicable)
  • Scheduling template


Everything pertaining to the Clinical Area

Examples might be:

  • List of labs and systems for handling cases
  • What materials are preferred?
  • Where are things kept?
  • What things are “routinely” done for every patient? (i.e.; offering them a pillow or blanket)
  • Special instructions for setting up and breaking down the room?
  • Utilization of IO camera?
  • Specific tray set ups (some will actually take photos of this for the overview)


Everything pertaining to the Hygiene Department

Examples might be:

  • Visual oral cancer screening or utilization of ViziLite or other advanced technology
  • When might patient be referred to periodontist? (probe numbers?)
  • How long for each procedure?
  • Assisted hygiene?
  • Products sold
  • What is the arrangement for doctor to come in and conduct his exam?
  • Does doctor check in to say hello to every patient?
  • Where are supplies kept?
  • Does hygienist schedule her/his own patients?
  • Hand out educational materials?


These are simply examples. You can make yours rich with information, since the more you include the better informed everyone will be.

Uses for this document:

  1. During the interview process this can be presented so the job candidate can see what their position might entail
  2. As a periodic reminder for current employees who can utilize it as a “refresher”
  3. If someone on the team is filling in for a missing member
  4. When a temporary employee is required to fill in
  5. As a reference guide to use to make sure all systems are maintained
  6. Excellent information to transfer to new owner should a practice sale be made

Once your Overview is created, it should be updated regularly with the entire team present to contribute, making sure all information is included.