Dental desperation

Sept. 1, 2010
Very often, unusual things happen when you least expect them. With gold well over $1,000 an ounce, it pays to be extra watchful during these economically challenging times.

By Bradley Dykstra, DDS, MBA

For more on this topic, go to and search using the following key words: dental desperation, red flags, investigation, interrogation, Dr. Bradley Dykstra.

Very often, unusual things happen when you least expect them. With gold well over $1,000 an ounce, it pays to be extra watchful during these economically challenging times. Yes, people are desperate, and I have learned that they will stoop to almost anything – even in our dental families.

For a few months, I experienced something for the first time in 32 years of practice that caught me off guard. It began one day in seating a full gold crown. When we went to cement it, the crown was not in the laboratory box. This seemed strange since each case is checked when it arrives at the office. But sometimes things get missed, so it raised no red flags at the time.

We called the lab to let technicians know the crown was not in the box and encouraged them to be on the lookout for any similar cases – just in case there might be some theft going on in the lab. It never occurred to me that it could be someone in my office. While we have a staff of 13, it is truly a family and we inherently trust one another.

The models were returned to the lab, and we paid to have another crown made. About a week later, this scenario was repeated. This time I knew the gold crown was in the box when it arrived at the office. I had checked it personally.

It finally registered that someone in the office was stealing the crowns (I admit that I am a slow learner). I knew that it was not one of the regular staff members. They are trustworthy and certainly had too much to lose.

At the time, we had a dental assistant intern (highly recommended by her school) working in the office. It was also ironic that the intern, who had perfect attendance for two months, was sick the day after the first crown went missing and the two days following the second such incident.

At this point, several team members reported that the intern loaded her purse with candy daily before she left the office. (We had just completed a Halloween candy buyback in the community, and had more than 200 pounds of candy to send to troops overseas). We alerted police of our suspicions. They came, took the report of the missing crowns, and said they would check into the matter. Meanwhile, the staff came up with a great plan. We created a sting.

This was the plan. Should the intern return, we would have another full gold case mixed in with the other cases ready for cementation in the afternoon (the intern worked from 8 a.m. to noon). We would see if we could catch her red-handed.

The following day, the unsuspecting intern showed up for work. It is hard to believe she would think we would not miss a gold crown when we went to cement one and realized it was no longer in the box.

We had the one full gold crown case in the cabinet along with the other cases (all full porcelain). Just before the intern was ready to leave, the office manager called her into the office, presumably to review her performance to date and discuss the schedule for the next few weeks.

Another staff member checked the box and, sure enough, the gold crown was missing.

The police were called, and upon arrival, they interviewed the intern. Initially, the intern denied everything. After a lengthy interrogation, this person finally admitted to the office manager and a police officer that she had indeed taken the crown. The officer later found the crown in her car.

In the ensuing investigation, it was discovered that the intern’s boyfriend had been selling crowns from our office – along with a few other pieces – for cash at a storefront gold buyback store. At this juncture, I checked the container in which we kept the scrap gold and remnants of failed crowns and bridges. It was no surprise that this container was empty. We later discovered that a few sample crowns used as demonstration models also were missing.

This situation was a reality check for me. I learned that everyone is not totally honest. I also should have had better safeguards in place with the scrap gold storage. We did have a system in place to make sure what was supposed to be in each lab case was, in fact, there when it arrived at the office, although now it is very well documented and monitored.

I would suggest that as practice owners you understand the lengths desperate people will go to in order to feed their habit or possibly even survive.

I leave you with the following three suggestions:

  • Make sure any gold or other easily saleable items are kept in a secure place, inventoried, and monitored.
  • Make sure there is a foolproof check-in system for all lab work as it arrives.
  • Never assume these things always happen only to someone else.

Dr. Bradley Dykstra is a general dentist in private practice in Hudsonville, Mich. A graduate of the University of Michigan's dental school, he earned his MBA from Grand Valley State University. He speaks on integrating technology into dentistry, and consults via his company, Anchor Dental Consulting. Reach him at [email protected] or (616) 669-6600.

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