Th Is This All

Is This All There Is?

Sept. 1, 2008
I have worked in the same practice for 30 years. Our practice is part of a large group of practices.

By Dianne Glasscoe-Watterson, RDH, BS

I have worked in the same practice for 30 years. Our practice is part of a large group of practices. We just had our yearly review, and I am so disappointed! I was told that my salary is “capped out,” which means I am making the maximum allowable wage. I have also been “capped out” for five years on vacation days.

I have a huge following of faithful patients, and when I get cancellations, I work hard to fill openings. What really frustrates me is that I work with two young hygienists who waste their downtime by browsing on the Internet or talking on the phone. We have cancellations every day, but I’m the only one who tries to fill openings. The doctor doesn’t say anything.

At the review I tried to plead my case that I produced $13,000 more last year than the other girls. I bring a lot of experience and personality to our practice. The doctors wholeheartedly agreed and actually apologized that I was only getting a 1.7% raise, while the other girls got 3.5%.

I am so sad. I know I got a little raise, but the incentive is just not there anymore. I feel like slacking like the other girls, but my work ethic won’t let me. I do love my job, and the girls at the office get along well. Do I just work the next 12 years while making no extra money? Please help me see through this dilemma.
Frustrated RDH

Dear Frustrated,

Actually, anyone who stays at a job long enough will (most likely) hit the salary peak for his/her job class. That does not mean there will not be anymore raises. It just means the raises will be small, cost-of-living increases. Dental practices are no different from other businesses struggling to keep overhead costs under control. Typically, the staff percentage of overhead is the largest overhead category.

I believe your office did you and the practice a disservice by telling you that you have “capped out.” By telling you this, they devalued your contribution to the practice and, worse, demotivated you to work to your highest potential for the good of the practice. It is unfortunate that corporations are so focused on the numbers that they forget that employees are not numbers, that all staff members do not bring the same value to the business. Most likely, the doctor(s) is an employee of the corporation and may feel unempowered or unmotivated to address work ethic issues. I believe high performers should be rewarded above average performers. I think the idea of random bonuses for stellar performance is a good way for management to reward long-term staff members who have reached the top of their job class pay. How much better it would have been if they had congratulated you on a wonderful year of being the highest producer and given you a bonus you were not expecting, along with your cost-of-living raise!

The dental hygiene profession has a kind of unspoken “glass ceiling,” which means there really is no way to move up the ladder and nowhere else to go to advance in the profession unless the hygienist is willing to go back to school and increase his/her education. The sadness and hopelessness you feel occurred as a result of bumping your head on the glass ceiling.

Job satisfaction is not all about the money, but I don’t have to tell you that. You didn’t stay 30 years in this profession strictly for the money. And as far as what your coworkers make, that is irrelevant to the current dilemma. Your practice and patients are so blessed to have you, and I congratulate you for your amazing longevity. I believe you when you say you love your job.

I believe many of us come to a point in our lives when we wonder, “Is this all there is?” For me, it was when I was 39 years old. I had been a clinical hygienist for 18 years. I went back to school and earned a bachelor’s degree while working part time. I loved my patients and enjoyed the challenges of patient care, but I felt the need to expand my options. And guess what? I’m back in school again working on my MBA through an online program. I just finished the seventh course of 12 that are required.

If you want to see how your pay stacks up against other states, there are a couple of resources: the RDH salary review at and Check them out.

My pay as a hygienist was infinitely better than when I was a chairside assistant or a business assistant making $350 per month before taxes (in 1972). From that perspective, the average hygiene pay with benefits is not bad.

It would be a great thing for all of us to aspire to be like the Apostle Paul. He proclaimed in his teaching to the Philippians, “I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” What he meant is he had learned to be content with whatever life threw his way, good or bad, rich or poor, sick or well, abundance or need. He knew real happiness was not based on how much money he made.

The only other thing I would add is that we are living in very uncertain economic times. Many businesses, including dental practices, are seeing negative growth at the bottom line. When that’s the case, practices cannot pay out more. They have to be able to keep costs under control and try to weather economic downturns. I am certain there will be practice bankruptcies in the future if this economy does not turn around. The stagnant economy has affected my business as well. The year 2007 was down 5% and 2008 is projected to be down about 15% from 2007. There’s no way I will get a raise this year.

So what are your options? Well, here’s how I see it:

  1. Go back to school. Make a future plan. Decide where you’d like to be in five years.
  2. Keep your eyes and ears open for hygiene openings and change jobs. I know you’d hate to leave your patients, but my experience is that you form connected relationships with new patients too.
  3. Remember Paul’s words and think about how thankful you are to have a job that you like. Do your best — just like you always have — without complaining, and make your employer glad you are there. Stay focused on why you are there to start with; i.e., to provide excellent care to those people who entrust their care to you. Don’t let your coworkers distract you, but know that the young ones are watching you every day without your knowledge. Be a caring mentor to them.

I hope my words help you put this situation in perspective. I don’t have any magic bullets, but as with most things in life, you do have some choices. Life should be more about being content, because as we all know, life is certainly not fair.

Best wishes,

About the Author

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Dianne Glasscoe-Watterson, RDH, BS, is a professional speaker, writer, and consultant to dental practices across the United States. She is CEO of Professional Dental Management, based in Frederick, Md. To contact Glasscoe-Watterson for speaking or consulting, call (301) 874-5240 or e-mail [email protected]. Visit her Web site at