Soap Opera of the Dental Practice

Sometimes colleagues act like kids in a sandbox. On a frosty day.

The next time you lay back on dentist chair to have either check-up or treatment done, instead of concentrating on squeezing the handles in a fear of the pain and unknown, pay a close attention to the chemistry between the dentist and the nurse. If you are lucky, it can be very entertaining to watch and listen, and you forget the whole business of being nervous.

Ideal Dentist-Nurse Relationship

An ideal relationship between a dentist and a nurse is such where mutual respect prevails. They are two human beings, professionals working together for the patient’s health and earning their living. Both of them understand that one could not work without the other (at least without seriously compromising the safety of the patient) and especially that they could not work without the patient. They may be good friends that go beyond the working day.

Dentist-Nurse Relationship from Hell

It can be a sign of a non-working relationship if it is the nurse that calls your name at the waiting room of the dental practice. Not always, but often it is so.

Why? Because normally it is the nurse who has more to do after the previous patient than the dentist. The nurse spends long time wiping surfaces (should do), equipment, patient chair with a disinfectant, sterilizing instruments and preparing the room for the next patient.

Meanwhile the dentist chats with the previous patient, records the visit (takes couple of minutes, sometimes even less if the dentist is not bothered to write anything else than check-up and adding a sign that tells us professionals that nothing special was found) and checks the next patient’s treatment plan, which she should have done already in the morning. All this often takes less than what the nurse needs to do.

A revelation:

Some dentists feel that they are too highly educated to walk the aisle of the surgery to call the patient in. It is the nurse’s duty even if it meant that the dentist has nothing to do while the nurse is finishing with disinfection business (well, dentist can always have a cuppa while waiting).

Here is an example of this. I have witnessed a very highly educated specialist taking a seat in the front of the computer every time the nurse walks out to call the patient in. And when the nurse returns with the patient, the specialist is looking intensely at the computer screen looking all important and wise for few seconds and then almost like apologetically getting up (for not noticing that the patient arrived) and rushing to shake hands. This happened with e-v-e-r-y patient. Honestly.


There are nurses that prefer to call the patient in from their own will. In this case any of the following won’t happen in the surgery. So keep reading!

Once you have taken a seat in the dental chair, the nurse gives you the safety glasses and a bib to cover you shirt and tilts the seat down. Here comes the next battle of the non-working relationship between the dentist and the nurse.

The ergonomics are very important in dental profession. It means early retirement or occupation change if you work in wrong positions for many years. In a good healthy working environment the dentist and the nurse have tried and tested the positions of the patient chair that is good for both of them (there will be exceptions e.g. when very large patient or heavily pregnant patient comes in).

So the nurse places the seat down and sits beside you. The dentist washes her hands (hopefully) and puts on the face mask and gloves. She moves her chair beside you and starts adjusting the patient chair’s hight and tilting-angle. If you see the nurse moving hastily further away from you or standing up, you know they do not work well together. The dentist has just adjusted the seat so that the nurse is not able to find an ergonomic position.

If they have worked together like this for years, there is lots of anger and resentment from the nurse’s side. You might be collateral damage in this war, I’m afraid. If you feel like your mouth is filling up with water, you need to swallow it a lot (by the way, you can swallow it, it’s just a tap water, is a lie and I will write about it later on this blog) or it pours out from the side of your mouth on to the dentist’s lap, it might be a silent demonstration against the dentist’s tyranny over the position of the patient chair and the patient’s head.

Twisted, but that’s how it goes.

Other Signs of Non-Working Dentist-Nurse Relationship

  • they don’t chat while treating you
  • they don’t make jokes to try to ease you fear
  • you hear lots of clatter from the instruments (they are thrown in the tray)
  • they reply cynically to one another (normally nurse to the dentist and in non-funny way e.g. as soon as I have time)
  • they argue about treatment, equipment and materials. How they should be used or should they be used at all – the dentist wins these arguments as they are the higher educated ones and cannot be wrong. Especially not in the presence of the patient
  • the nurse sits like a statue after the dentist has requested for an instrument. Just before the dentist is about to renew his request the nurse rolls her eyes and slowly reaches for the instrument

Definite Sign of Non-Working Dentist-Nurse Relationship

The nurse walks out of the surgery.


Just imagine what it is like to work as a pair and the chemistry does not work. It is simply and utterly torture for all including the patient. And it is very common in dentistry.

If you, a dental professional recognised yourself from the above, please start working towards a better relationship. It starts from the respect.

You might also like:

Part I: Is It a Skyskraper? No, It’s Your Ego

Part II: Just Another Day at the Office

Part III: I’m Sorry but I Did Not Get Qualified So That I Can Make Coffee for You


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