Is There Tension Between Your Hygienists and Assistants?

Is there tension between your Hygienists and Assistants? Even if you haven’t noticed it, it’s probably still there. It’s not the usual situation where sometimes people just don’t get along. There’s something specific between Hygienists and Assistants that just causes a lot of friction. If you’re wondering what it is, I can tell you because I think I’ve figured it out. You’re not going to like it but here it goes; it’s jealousy. Yep, that big green monster rears its ugly head in dental offices all around the world, every single day.

You might not agree but think about it:

  • Assistants are jealous of Hygienists because they generally have a lot more responsibility in the office than Hygienists, and yet they earn a whole lot less. They don’t consider the time and education Hygienists undergo to earn their higher salary. All they see is the difference in their job descriptions.
  • Hygienists are jealous of Assistants because their own job is monotonous. They see an Assistant doing lab work or placing an order with a Rep, and wish they had that variety in their day. They downgrade what she’s doing to ‘free time’ when she’s really working hard at her own job.
  • Assistants are jealous of Hygienists because they get to work with their patients independently. While most of their time with patients is spent assisting the doctor.
  • Hygienists are jealous of Assistants because when their schedule falls apart at the last minute, it’s condensed and their hours are cut. If the doctor’s schedule falls apart, it usually doesn’t effect his Assistant’s hours. Or if the doctor goes away and closes the office, Assistants can maintain their hours by going in to do projects or cleaning. Hygienists aren’t often given that option.

Those are just a few reasons based on complaints I’ve gotten from both sides. But I’m sure we could come up with a lot more. And the reasons change depending on the office, the age and experience of the people involved and the mood they’re in at the time.

It’s not good to have this tense energy flowing through your office every day. Your patients sense it whether you know it or not. They’re tense enough just walking into your office, the last thing you want to do is add to that negative energy.

Your team doesn’t need it either. It turns perfectly nice women into mean girls. Fueled by their jealousy, they start setting each other up. It starts out small. They toss their instruments into the ultrasonic and never come back to empty it. Or they take the last tray cover and leave the empty box. There’s all sorts of little digs they come up with to annoy each other. It’s petty and it’s sad but it happens. Depending on who you are reading this, you’ve either watched it, or done it so you know it exists. I’m sure deep down you’d like to fix it. But how? I don’t have a definitive answer but I do have a few suggestions.

Do not make your Assistants assist your Hygienists.

Either make sure that you’re scheduling enough time for your Hygienists to work independently, or hire a Sterilization Assistant. You can use any title you want for the job. That person is there to help sanitize and set up operatories and keep sterilization running smoothly throughout the day. They can help out the Hygienists with Perio Charting and assist with sealants. They can even work at the front desk; answering phones and doing simple check-outs. A position like this can be hard to keep filled long term, because there’s not always a lot of growth involved. But it’s ideal for a Mom who has young children in school for daytime hours, and a high school or college student for evenings and summers.

Make your Hygienists your Recare Coordinators.

Block a few hours each week for them to work on Recare. Whatever system you’re using, there’s still some amount of phone or paperwork involved. Even if they’re just leaving messages on voicemails, you’ll be surprised by how many more call-backs you’ll get. Patients love hearing from the person who actually cleans their teeth. Most Hygienists will appreciate having a diversion from their busy patient schedule. Even if they don’t, I think it’s important for them to have another focus besides seeing patients. It makes them feel more like part of the team.


I know right? This would solve every problem in the office! It sounds simple but it’s not. For some reason people would rather hold it all in and let their frustration simmer than actually talk about what’s bothering them. That’s not helping anyone though, right? So, have an air clearing session and find out what’s at the heart of the tension. What are people doing or not doing that’s causing it? What needs to change for it to work? And, is everyone on board for moving forward with making these changes?

If you’re an Assistant or a Hygienist and you recognize some of this in your office, start making baby steps towards fixing it. Do some soul searching and get to the root of what’s causing you to feel the way you do. These things can start out small and before you know it years go by, people quit and nothing ever changes. So, do your best to be kind. And do your own part towards becoming that amazing office that actually enjoys working together.

Anna Baumann

Annoyingly cheerful Graves Disease Warrior and Dental Office Lifer. Eager to share, help and connect. Big fan of kindness, food, ocean cruises and reading books while drinking tea.

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