What should hygienist do about subpar dentist?

Dear Dianne,

I work in a group practice with four general dentists. Three of the doctors do very nice dentistry and seem to take a lot of pride in their work. However, the other dentist does some of the worst dentistry I’ve ever seen. I’m talking about crown margins I could park my car under, composites that do not match, restorations that leak and fall out, and more. When this doctor checks my patients, I cringe when I have to reappoint them with him.

This dentist has been out of dental school for 10 years, so it’s not like he’s old and decrepit. Sometimes, I wonder how he ever graduated with such poor skills.

Don’t get me wrong—he’s a nice guy, but his dentistry sucks! I would not want him to even adjust a filling in my mouth. Several of my coworkers have noticed the poor quality of his dentistry as well.

My question to you is, what is my ethical obligation to my patients? Should I steer them away from his schedule? Should I say something to the senior doctor about what I’ve observed?

Northern RDH

Dear Northern,

As you are aware, hygienists are in the best position of all the staff members to judge the quality of a dentist’s work. With your instruments, you get to explore margins of restorations subgingivally, and you chart when you observe recurrent decay, failing restorations, or any other dental need. Hygienists certainly recognize when dentistry is high-quality or substandard.

Many hygienists are employed in offices where the dentists are fully engaged in advanced dental procedures that require many hours of continuing education. These dentists often push themselves to attain the precision needed to excel in those specialized areas. Some become over-the-top perfectionists who feel that all of their employees should have the same zeal as they do. Believe me, I know what I’m talking about. They have the bar set so high that nobody can please them. Staff turnover is common in these situations.