Dentist-Assistant Relationship; Good or Horrid?

There are few relationships where each person’s effectiveness and happiness depends so largely on the other, than in a dentist-assistant situation.

The dentist-assistant relationship is unique. It reminds me of the nursery rhyme, ‘There was a little girl, with a curl, right in the middle of her forehead. And when she was good she was very, very good, but when she was bad she was horrid!’

During my many years as a dental assistant, I experienced both good and not-so-good connections with dentists. Thankfully, I never had anything I would describe as ‘horrid’, but I have heard some stories…

Upon reflection, the natural process of maturing, developing awareness and respect for others and taking responsibility for both my actions and communication when things were not going well all helped to improve my relationships.

There are three characteristics that I believe contribute enormously to a successful and happy dentist-assistant relationship:

1. Safety

I have written often of the relevance that safety plays in workplace relationships. Can team members feel safe to make a mistake and not be demeaned? If team members are unhappy about something, is there a forum where they can be heard without being dismissed? Do team members feel that their contributions to the practice are valued? Issues arise when people don’t feel safe. Team members may become defensive, avoid or deflect responsibility when something goes wrong, become overly critical of others and may feel victimised by other team members who are in reaction to feeling unsafe themselves.

Unexpected situations arise in the clinical surgery. Preparing the wrong bonding liquid, using out-of-date medicaments, infection control breaches, neglecting to send off lab impressions…the list is endless. Catching these events before they become hazardous, or mitigating their impact is important. However, if an assistant knows she will be demeaned, she is less likely to admit or disclose her mistake, especially if she is young.

Establish safety by being a support to each other, especially when things go wrong. Don’t make things personal, but be constructive and helpful instead. Encourage and reward when attention is brought to the mistake. I have had dentists in their 50’s admit that they still aren’t ‘perfect’, so why not allow your assistant to sometimes not be perfect?

2. Respect

A lack of respect in the relationship is not only felt by the disrespected person but is obvious to the patient. A lack of respect is evident when someone is impatient and rushing the other to complete a task. It is the absence of ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. It is the disregard of the other person’s feelings and the pressures they are under at the time.

Build respect in your dentist-assistant relationship by seeing things from the other’s perspective, being patient and seeking to see the positives in each other.

3. Likability

The best dentist-assistant relationships are the ones where they like each other. Be light-hearted and humorous. Get to know each other’s hobbies and learn about each other’s family. Be open. Celebrate their wins and support them during challenging times. Have each other’s back. Be kind and gentle with each other’s feelings.

The dentist-assistant relationship can make or break your day. When both parties are aware of their personal responsibility in the relationship, you can achieve a very, very good working environment…and avoid a horrid one.