How to Spot a Toxic Dental Office During a Job Interview

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Over a decade ago, I picked up my license, walked out of my employer’s office midday, and never looked back. I don’t regret it. What I do regret is not noticing the red flags sooner. Working in a toxic office is not something every hygienist will encounter in their careers, but many will. So, here is a discussion of some things to be on the lookout for when interviewing at a prospective practice.

Appointment Times

Before taking a position, it is always a good idea to ask to look at the practice’s patient schedule. Be sure to view several days, weeks, and even months if possible. Look for big gaps in the schedule, how long between appointments patients are scheduled, and how many last-minute add-ins there are. And, of course, be sure to look for how much time is given for each type of appointment.

Are prophylaxis appointments 30 minutes? An hour? How about non-surgical periodontal therapy? Are hygienists asked to do two (or even four) quads of non-surgical periodontal therapy in the same time that is allotted for a prophy? Looking at what is expected ahead of time can be very helpful in avoiding a stressful situation later. If the appointment times are short, find out if the office plans to have a hygiene assistant working alongside you.

If there are multiple gaps (not just an occasional cancellation), ask what would be expected of you during that downtime. Will you be asked to clean/stock the operatory? Will that be time for you to prepare for the next day or sharpen your instruments?  Will you be asked to cold-call patients to schedule their next hygiene visit? Will you be asked to clock out and not be paid for that time?

Asking dental hygienists to clock out between patients is in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The U.S. Department of Labor is very clear on this point, but many dental offices still try to enforce this practice.

If a hygienist has a patient cancel or no-show to an appointment, they are considered to be “engaged to wait,” according to the FLSA. This is defined as any time that an employee is waiting for work to do under the normal parameters of the position.1 An example of this would be a receptionist waiting for a patient to arrive or for the phone to ring. Therefore, they should be considered on duty and paid for the time.

Mis-Scheduled Patients

Sometimes, a patient is scheduled for a routine prophylaxis but should have been scheduled for a periodontal maintenance procedure or non-surgical periodontal therapy. It happens – no scheduling department is perfect. That said, something might be amiss if it starts to look like a regular occurrence.

Always ask about scheduling practices when interviewing at an office. Is the front desk team asked to verify via the patient record what the next visit should be, or do they rely on the patients to tell them? Some practices rely on patients to tell them what to schedule to avoid putting anyone on hold.

Another thing to watch out for with scheduling is the use of the full-mouth debridement (D4355). How often does it pop up on the schedule? Is it being used as an additional non-surgical periodontal therapy appointment? Is this being utilized as a way to bill out for “more than just a prophy,” or is it indicative of a practice that is simply not current on CDT changes in coding and practice standards?

Some offices may not be aware that there are newer CDT codes for treating patients with gingivitis (D4346). This CDT procedure code is to be used when scaling “in the presence of generalized moderate or severe gingival inflammation.”2 The American Dental Association offers a very clear decision tree (scroll to the second page of the document) that can help clinicians know what code is most appropriate for the type of treatment cleaning being given.2


The most important thing when interviewing at an office is to keep your eyes and ears open. Watch the front desk as well as the clinical staff as they interact with patients. If they seem overly rushed or indifferent to patient needs, that may be a sign of something wrong with the overall culture of the office. Essentially, watch how people in the office treat each other. Do they say “good morning” as they come into work or offer to help others before they leave?

Ask why they are hiring. Sometimes, it’s as simple as the practice is growing and in need of another hygienist. Other times, you find out there are personality conflicts that may persist when you join the staff. Listen for professionalism in the doctor/office manager’s answers. If you hear a lot of personal opinions of their previous employees, you may want to think twice about signing up for the job. Remember, an interview is for you as much as it is for them.

Look around the office. Usually, an interview includes an office tour. How organized are the operatories? Do things appear to be well-stocked?

I hate to say it, but I once interviewed in an office that was out of paper towels. Crazy, right? I don’t know how they planned to accomplish appropriate handwashing, but they did not seem too concerned. This made me think about the possibility of larger infection control issues that could arise if I were to accept a position there.  So, when a job was offered, I politely declined.


Another thing to watch for on that initial office tour is numbers. How prominent are the office culture’s production goals? Every practice has them, and they are a necessity. Still, does it seem like the prominent focus? I like to ask a potential office about their production tracking and find out ahead of time what the expectations regarding production will be for me as a hygienist in the practice.

Will product sales be a major part of the job? Some offices expect that every patient should leave having purchased a dental product of some sort, while others take the approach that patients should be offered products purely based on their oral health care needs.

In Closing

Ultimately, there is a perfect office out there for everyone. Finding it can be the tough part, and sometimes hygienists end up in offices that are not the right fit for them at all. Keeping a sharp eye out for potential problems during the interview process can, hopefully, help avoid having to quit later. No one wants to leave a job, so be proactive when going out on interviews.

Before you leave, check out the Today’s RDH self-study CE courses. All courses are peer-reviewed and non-sponsored to focus solely on high-quality education. Click here now.

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  1. Wages and the Fair Labor Standards Act. (n.d.). U.S. Department of Labor: Wage and Hour Division.
  2. ADA Guide to Reporting D4346 [Version 6]. (2023, January 1). American Dental Association.
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Aurora Graves DeMarco, BA, RDH, CDA
Aurora Graves DeMarco, BA, RDH, CDA, has been in the dental field since 2000 when she started as an on-the-job trained dental assistant. In 2006, she obtained her bachelor’s degree in English from Florida State University, and the following year received her certificate in dental assisting. Two years later, Aurora completed an associate’s degree in dental hygiene. Throughout her career, she has taken every opportunity to engage in the field of dentistry through clinical practice, volunteering, and education. For two years she served as President for the Greater Orlando Dental Hygienists’ Association (now the Central Florida Dental Hygienists’ Association) and enjoys being an active part in the promotion and progression of the field of dental hygiene. In addition to writing articles, Aurora has worked on updating two dental hygiene textbooks to new editions and looks forward to more projects that combine her love of writing with her love of teeth. She spends her free time chasing her dog, two cats, two kids, and her husband around their Florida home.