Career, Advice

Bullying in Dental: What Does It Look Like?

By Michelle M. Singley, RDH, EdM on January, 20 2020
Bullying in Dental: What Does It Look Like?
Michelle M. Singley, RDH, EdM

Michelle has served in multiple positions of leadership in the American Dental Hygienists’ Association at the local, state, and national level, and is the past recipient of the ADHA Student Advisor Award. Her background includes dental hygiene clinical practice, pedodontic office management, dental hygiene education and dental hygiene program administration.

Have you ever had to work with someone who seemed determined to make your life miserable? 

If you answered yes, you’re not alone. According to Forbes, workplace bullying is extremely prevalent, affecting up to 75% of employees.

Dental offices are not immune to the destructive effects of bullying, and bullies can be found throughout the hierarchy of the dental office: receptionists, dental assistants, dental hygienists, office managers, associates and dentists.

There have been documented cases where a dental assistant bullied a hygienist and where multiple workers inflicted their bullying behavior as a “clique.’’

It wasn’t until I was doing some research for an upcoming webinar that I realized to what extent bullying exists in dentistry, and that I myself have been a victim of bullying to a certain degree at various points in my career without even realizing it. 

A bullying culture can develop in any context, and being aware of the symptoms and causes helps us shine a light on an issue that affects so many workers. 


How can you spot a workplace bully?

Unfortunately, workplace bullies don’t wear name tags or signs that identify them as bullies. But when you interact with them, you might notice some behaviors that many workplace bullies share.

The characteristics and motives of a dental office bully include a person who:

  • Wants improved social standing
  • Has a desire to control and dominate others
  • Has a need to boost their own self-esteem
  • Most likely is envious or jealous and resents the targeted staff member
  • May have inflated yet fragile ego
  • Tends to be offended by criticism, so reacts with insults or verbal violence
  • Has negative attitudes about themselves, thus inflicting negativity on the co-worker
  • Most likely exhibits narcissistic behaviors (other staff members in a dental office may be envious of a dental hygienist due to education, office status, salary, etc.)


One common characteristic of bullies is narcissism — everything is all about them. Narcissistic bullies constantly seek attention and exploit relationships for their own gain. They speak endlessly, constantly interrupt, are insensitive and rarely apologize.

Narcissists are hypercritical and offer very little, if any, positive reinforcement. They often take credit for others’ work. This is all done out of a profound sense of their own superiority, which makes them feel justified in sabotaging their targets by setting them up to fail or frequently enlisting other co-workers to join the mob to do their dirty work.

Oddly enough, their sense of superiority is actually a cover for low self-esteem.


What are the effects of bullying in the dental office?

Workplace bullying has far-reaching effects for victims, both personally and professionally. In a dental office, the effects may materialize as follows:

  • Financial = loss of productivity
  • Employee disengagement = staff/victim not able to work as a true team member
  • Sick leave/health issues of the victim = who wants to go to work when faced with this in addition to anxiety, etc.
  • Patient dissatisfaction = when attitudes and behaviors spill over into customer service, and you KNOW it will.


On an individual level, victims may experience the following as a result of bullying:

  • Risk of stress-related illness
  • Inclined to emotional issues
  • Susceptible to depression and anxiety
  • Being anxious and may respond by making errors in the workplace


Know your limitations and assets in your workplace. Not everyone is astute enough to know how their actions or behaviors can impact another person, while others may be fully aware of what they’re saying or doing.

In two of the instances in my years in an office, one took me leaving the workplace to stop having to deal with the person’s behaviors, and in the other, the bully left the workplace and the entire environment changed positively.

Life is too short to live in fear and frustration when you have to work with a bully every day. Only people who are not happy with themselves are mean to others—REMEMBER THAT!

New call-to-action

Submit a Comment

Stay up to date