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

Dental Revelations Blog-

It is (finally!) time for the final part of the series of posts. This time it is of course the nurse’s role in the dental practice which probably is the most difficult one. Here’s why.

Experience Brings Wisdom

The dentist may know dentistry but he does not necessarily have any people skills. Or respect for others. Or ability to feel empathy. This kind of dentist is not fun to work with. Not even close to pleasant.

The nurse needs to put up with the dentist’s whimsy ways and misuse of power. Some nurses might tolerate this for a long time but some do find another job quite quickly. Especially those who are experienced ones.

But having said that, sometimes experienced nurses are allocated purposely to assist difficult dentists. To kind of bring them in the line. And oh boy if the dentist resists the change. He will have miserable time as the nurse tells him off about everything. The dentist’s whining is quickly silenced by the quick-witted nurse who do not tolerate any nonsense.

So the wisest dentists will comply very quickly as it is crucial for the congenial atmosphere of the work place. Plus the wisest dentists understand that the experienced nurses are worth their weight in gold no matter how they seem to disrespect the outdated hierarchical structure of dental practice.

Experience Brings Knowledge

In the Part I of this series of posts I wrote that sometimes the hygienists can have better knowledge on how to treat the gum disease. It is the same with the nurses – especially the nurses with 20+ years of experience. They have stared at people’s mouths for such a long time that they know a cavity when they see one. They can tell if the soft tissues look suspicious or if the filling has sharp edges that would bother the patient’s tongue.

If the dentist is lucky to have this kind of nurse assisting him he should be grateful to have extra pair of eyes looking out for problems in the patient’s mouth. But too many let their ego come in the way of team work (please read Part II for more on this subject). They ignore the fact that the nurse is looking at the mouth from another angle and can see things that are on dentist’s blind side.

Nurse Aka the Barista

One thing I have never understood is that why is it the nurse’s duty to make a cup of coffee/tea for the dentist? Please tell me one good reason why the person behind the title nurse should be considered as a servant? If anything, it should be the dentist making the coffee for the nurses as once they are finished with the patient they can enjoy their lunch in peace whilst the nurse disinfects the surgery’s surfaces and deals with the sterilisation of the instruments.

Another thing I have never understood – which I have already written about on my second post – is the fact that the patients bring gifts to the dentists but not to the nurse. Wine, chocolate, sweets, books you name it. I guess they don’t realise that dentist would not be able to do any treatment without the nurse (well without compromising good quality of treatment).

About Qualification Requirements

You may not need any qualifications to start as a trainee dental nurse.

This is a quote from National Careers Service’s website. It amazes me that in the UK you are still able to begin working as a dental nurse trainee without any qualifications and train yourself on the job. When I began working in the UK over a decade ago the dental nurse did not need to be qualified. Anyone could work as a dental nurse. Any random gal from the street. Seriously.

Somebody who has no clue about cross infection control or how to use all the equipment and materials safely would seriously compromise the patient’s, the dentist’s and the nurse’s own health.

In my current country that I work in the trainee nurses need to have certain modules accomplished before they can work as a trainee nurse. In my opinion this is far better system.

Hard Work Does Not Pay Off

The amount of work the nurses do does not show in the salary. They are very poorly paid and are expected to work on their lunch breaks if the dentist runs late and they are even expected to open the surgery in the morning on their own time.

I will tell you about one of my workplaces I used to work at. In this rather big company the nurses working hours were from 9am to 5pm. This was the time they got paid for. The problem with these working hours were that the patient came in at 9am and the surgery needed to be opened prior to that. All the nurses and the dental hygienists know that if you open your surgery properly it will take at least 30 minutes. Who would want to work 30 minutes for free? No-one apart from the charity volunteers but dentistry is no charity.

This meant that the nurses came in around 8.45am to open the surgery and they cut corners where ever they could. The same happened in the afternoon when the last patient had left. Closing the surgery also should take around 30 minutes but it was often done in less than 15 minutes. Needless to say that something important is left undone.

Pay Enough to the One You Want to Keep

Now on this final chapter I will give an advice to all the dentists who have nurses as employees. It is an advice that will make your practice a success story.

If you think your nurse is doing magnificent job

  • pay her enough money for that. Even more than what would be current going rate of the nurse
  • be flexible and take her personal life into consideration. Show that you care if she struggles with the demands of bringing family life and work life together
  • give her gifts every once in a while. Perfume, chocolate, her favourite music… anything
  • make sure you apologise if you run late before the lunch break. Let her go for an extra break later to compensate the lost time
  • buy her a lunch every now and then – after all you make gazillion times more money
  • make sure you both work in an ergonomic position
  • respect her

These are the only ways to stop your nurse looking for another job. You see every nurse know eventually that there are dentist’s who do value them more. Believe me, I know many nurses who have been rewarded generously by their employer – they have been paid more than an average nurse, they have been taken on board to a course trip overseas (even to Mauritius!), they get extra time off…

You see the dental practice who’s supportive staff keeps on changing all the time is not giving a very good impression to the patients. And that alone can be a reason for them to change dentist.


You might also like these posts:
Part I: Is It a Skyskraper? No, It’s Your Ego
Part II: Just Another Day at the Office

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

Dentalrevelations

On my second post I promised to write about personalities of the staff in dental practices and how they may affect the dental practice and the treatment given to the patient. I’m going to fulfil this promise today. And on my next post. And the next.

I am going to write a series of posts about this topic. Each post will have a viewpoint of one dental professional. Today it will be the hygienist’s.

I’m Not Going to Play with You

As long as there have been dental hygienists there have been dentists who are afraid of losing their living because of them. These dentists either refer only the simple scale and polish to the hygienist or do not refer at all.

They treat the patients with advanced gum disease themselves as it requires more visits. More visits equals more money per patient. And the money is the only motive they have for this silly way of practicing the dentistry.

The problem with these kinds of dentists is that most often the hygienist would have better skills to treat the advanced gum disease than the dentist and this is revealed when the patient sees the hygienist six months later. Often there is subgingival (invisible) calculus still left even though it should have been removed on the first course of treatment. Plus the patient has no clue how to clean her teeth effectively.

Big Ego

It is a fact that the oral and maxillofacial surgeons have a big ego. Or to precise – they have a huge ego. But in my opinion they have all the right to have one. They NEED one to be able to perform all the talent requiring hocus pocus on patients mouth, jaw and face. Plus they don’t use their ego against co-workers or the patients.

But when a dentist has a big ego it rarely is attractive or talent enhancing. I will give you an example from a real life.

A dentist does a check-up for a patient. Then the patient sees a hygienist for a scale and polish. Whilst scaling with curettes the hygienist notices there are potential cavities in three different sites and she checks the patient’s x-rays. The x-rays confirm the suspicion.

The hygienist checks the dentist’s notes for the check-up visit to see if there is a treatment plan to fix these cavities. There isn’t. It appears as if the dentist has missed the cavities when doing the check-up.

The hygienist sends the patient back to see the dentist. When the dentist sees the hygienist’s message about the cavities he acts as if the patient has come in unnecessarily.

“I’m sure there’s nothing there”

he says to the patient. He quickly checks the sites with a mirror, sighs and continues by saying

“One of these suspected cavities is a borderline cavity. We could do a filling for that so that you didn’t come this far for nothing. The other two we can still monitor.”

The hygienist sees a patient for another scale and polish couple of weeks later. She checks the dentist’s notes and realises that only one cavity has been filled. She asks the patient if the dentist has asked her to come back to have the other two to be done. Negative.

The hygienist is baffled. She checks again with her curette the other two suspected cavities. The instrument goes between the filling and a tooth and sinks deep into a soft area – it is a cavity for sure.

The hygienist decides to ask another dentist to come and have a look there and then. The dentist confirms the two remaining cavities and recommends the patient to have them filled.

At this point the patient is very confused. Who is not doing their job properly? Who to believe?

This was just one example. There are plenty more but I won’t write them down as I am not writing a novel. But my point is that when a lower ranking dental professional finds something the almighty dentist didn’t the ego goes before the patient’s best interest.

Not good. Not good dentistry at all and everyone who recognise themselves from this should be ashamed.

But why the dentist did not notice the cavities even from the x-rays? That is completely another story.

Hygienist’s Difficult Role

It is tough to be a hygienist. They often have skills to make the same diagnosis as the dentists but only the dentists have a right to make one. The hygienist must always remember to add a question mark after their findings or the hell will break loose and she is quickly put back to her place by the dentist who kindly reminds her that she has no right to make a diagnosis.

And when she finds something that the dentist missed she will be between rock and a hard place. Especially if the dentist does not agree with her because of the big ego problem. The confused patient often thinks the dentist was right which makes the situation even more difficult.

But the time is on hygienist’s side. She has recorded every finding on the patient’s dental records – with the question marks! She has recorded that she has consulted a dentist. Sooner or later the cavity (or whatever her finding was) will get worse. There will be pain. Or the crown will come off as the cavity has eaten the tooth under it and perhaps so much so that it is beyond repair.

The dentist can only hope the patient do not file a complaint.

Lonely Rider in a Cupboard under the Stairs

Another side of being hygienist is the fact that they are often quite alone in the practice. It is often so that the practice has only one hygienist. This means they don’t have peer support in the practice. Peer support is something that every dental professional would need.

Also the hygienist is given the oldest dental unit in the practice and the smallest room, the one without a window. Or perhaps the room under the stairs. Not sure if the Harry Potter fate has happened for real – perhaps it was just sarcasm from a hygienist that I once knew?

Conclusion

Why do the dentists feel so threatened by hygienists? Why is it hard to be wrong or admit that you have missed something? Why do they need to feel and let others know that dentists are at the top of the command chain?

I’m afraid I do not have the answers. One dentist once said to me that the dentists are non-qualifiers for medical school which means that the dentistry was not their first choice of profession. Are these kinds of dentists letting everyone else suffer for their disappointment?

I will remind you that not all the dentist are like this of course. But in my current workplace two out of four dentists are. That’s 50%. That’s a lot!

I hope practice owners will start to value their hygienist more than before. And get them the brand new dental unit, a saddle chair (or whatever chair the hygienist prefers) and curettes the hygienist wants so that there would be even a small chance to work in an ergonomic position during the treatment. After all they bring in steady flow of cash with very little expenses.

And dear dentists, we are all equal human beings no matter what our profession is.


You might also like these posts:
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