Dentists Often Work with Their Spouses

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Marriage in the dental officeThis survey asked dentists if they work with their spouse. An astonishing 70% of respondents said they do work with their husband or wife.

An additional 12% used to, but no longer do.

Only 15% said they do not. (The remaining 3% do not have a spouse or partner.)

Husband and wife dental practices 

The clear majority (86%) say they were romantically involved first. Only 12% admit being coworkers first.

Two bosses is not twice as good

  • “It's often a terrible idea. I've worked at offices where the spouse was the office manager. Lots of turnover from having two bosses.” (Texas dentist)
  • “I am forever grateful that he has another job. We would have been long divorced if he had been working in the office I am sure! We've been married over 40 years but neither of us would have been happy with two bosses in the office.” (New York dentist)
  • “I generally do not recommend having your spouse work in the dental office. Staff often do not know whether to listen to the doctor or the spouse when there are conflicts. Spouses often flaunt their power and do not adhere to the office policies and work schedules which are expected of other staff members. This creates resentment between spouses and staff."

Firing your spouse is hard

  • “Horrible idea. Hard to fire the person you live with.” (Kentucky dentist)
  • “I fired my first wife twice. My current wife is a team player. She is great to work with!” (Texas dentist)
  • “Like any other employee, the spouse needs to be somewhat of an expert in their specific sphere of office duties… when they are not very proficient is when it is a BIG problem… that is what I have and I feel very stuck in this situation." (Midwestern dentist)

Working separately is good for some marriages

  • “It is easier to maintain a balanced relationship, if your spouse does not work with or for you in the office. There are many exceptions.” (General dentist)
  • “Best to keep the wife working outside the office.” (New Jersey dentist)

Keep home and office separate

  • “You need to be very careful to separate home and office.” (New Jersey dentist)
  • “Conflict at home, conflict at the office.” (Nebraska dentist)
  • “Hard to do. Keeping the business and personal separate is very hard.” (Ohio dentist)
  • “It can be a catastrophically BAD idea to work with a spouse if the relationship is unhealthy. My (now-ex) husband used to complain to our assistants when we were not getting along. It undermined my relationship with the staff and made for a miserable team. He would get to work early and ‘warn’ everybody that I was in a bad mood when in fact, I was NOT. Then I would wonder why all of the staff was avoiding me… what a nightmare! It's no wonder our marriage didn't last.” (California dentist)

Bad experiences

  • “With my first husband, we did work together and it was a very difficult time. I don't recommend it.” (California dentist)
  • “Don't do it.” (Georgia dentist)

Spouses act in your best interest

  • “It is a great idea because we appreciate how hard both of us work, and who cares more about the business than your spouse?” (Illinois dentist)
  • “I trust her to always do what is in our best interest. The best, but I understand it is unique.” (Connecticut dentist)
  • “It's good & bad. A spouse is the most likely the best person to protect the interests of the practice, but it's hard to separate work relationship from personal relationship with so much time together.” (Maine dentist)
  • “Only your spouse will always keep your best interest in mind and foremost. Only she will consistently provide the best level of service to patients and provide a consistency within the practice that is hard to get from hired employees. We are teammates/coworkers in the office and spouses after we leave the office. I am fortunate to have her working with me in the office.” (Texas dentist)
  • “It’s very hard on a marriage but very good for the business… Who cares as much as the owner/couple if the business succeeds and patients are well taken care of?” (Dental office worker)
  • “Yes, because you can trust your wife and you are working towards the same goals." (Maryland dentist)

Differing work styles

  • "I have dated another dentist for years, but we would not be able to work together. Generational differences—graduated many years apart, but different ways of handling staff—he has high turnover and my staff is stable, some 20 years, some 5 years. Each situation is different. I had
    classmates I could have worked with, though.” (Indiana dentist)
  • “No way! My wife is compelled to be in charge and not being a dentist, it simply would not work. Besides, she's a sucker for a sob story and we'd never collect a penny. Then she'd be outraged at me when we went bankrupt." (Kentucky dentist)
  • “Our personalities are different. My work style bothers her.” (California dentist)

Some love it

  • “We worked together until we sold the dental practice. It worked very well for us.” (Texas dentist)
  • “Best thing I ever did.” (Texas dentist)
  • “'Excellent. It has made it possible for him to concentrate on being an extraordinary and respected clinician.” (California dental office worker)
  • “I can't imagine having a partner that was more successful than someone who knows and shares my core values better than my wife – she creates synergy in our practice that wouldn't be possible otherwise.” (New Hampshire dentist)
  • “I have been working with my spouse for over 18 years – she is my chairside assistant, and I would not trade her for anything in the world. This was the very best decision I have ever made in my career.” (California dentist)
  • “I'm one of the lucky ones in that I'm uncomfortable when she's not here!!!” (Texas dentist)
  • “It has worked for us for 35 years.” (California dentist)
  • “It is a great idea, and it has worked out tremendously for me/us.” (Florida dentist)
  • “It is the best thing that has ever happened to our practice. If I did not want to be around my wife all the time, I would not have married her. My practice has doubled since we began working together and she implemented the Teachings of MAP.” (Georgia dentist)
  • “My wife is the office manager! She keeps the overhead down! I couldn’t survive
    without her!” (Florida dentist)
  • “She's the best! My wife is bright, caring, and the best businessperson I've met. I'm glad we get to work together.” (Alaska dentist)
  • “It works for us.” (Ohio oral surgeon)
  • “We met in dental school. Started working together a year after we married." (California dentist)
  • “We're both dentists… I can't imagine a better way.” (Ohio dentist)

You know you can trust family

  • “There’s definitely strength in family members working in the practice.” (Texas dentist)
  • “Family is your best resource for dedicated and concerned staff. My children helped while in high school, they were able to witness good role models in their parents and many of the staff. My wife has contributed to the stability of the practice and provided an eye on patient relations with the front office staff and dealing with overall business aspects of the practice."
  • “I did a start up, and I needed a lot of help in the beginning.” (California periodontist)

Maintain some independence

  • “Part time only!!!” (Connecticut dentist)
  • “My husband is a dentist and I am a periodontist so I work in his office to do periodontal procedures for his patients. While it makes financial sense, it is difficult to spend all day together and then come home and talk about other things; we try to arrange for different days or times. We also have
    different approaches to our patient care so it is easier to work independently." (Illinois periodontist)
  • “My spouse works from home, not in the office, leading to better relationships with staff.” (Florida dentist)
  • “My wife remotely/internet connects with the office and monitors activities.” (Virginia dentist)

It takes work

  • “There are definitely problems unique to a relationship that puts two personalities in constant contact, with the give and take needed to make relationships work. Now you have the marital relationship and the work relationship. They are not mutually exclusive and the adage of the woman
    being in charge at home does not necessarily apply in the workplace. Consequently there can be friction when the ‘Boss’ expects something because He
    is the Boss. Mostly it is a matter of working as a team. If that is obtainable, then things tend to work out.” (Michigan dentist)
  • “It is like your marriage in fast forward. What ever would take 5 years to become a problem, is a problem in one, so you better figure out how to work it out fast.” (California pediatric dentist)

You have to start with a solid marriage

  • “Having a solid relationship first is key. Both have to be on 'the same page' and be able to have clear discussions with the final goal being the team, the office and the patients, not who is right or wrong.” (Massachusetts prosthodontist)
  • “I do not believe it has a bearing on the marriage. If you get along in the office together, it is still no guarantee you will stay together. Some people do and some do not. If you do not get along, then that is a different story.” (California dentist)

Think of the rest of the staff

  • "It can work, but highly dependant on personalities/attitudes not only between spouses, but with other staff. If it becomes ‘I’m Mrs. Dr. Smith’ instead of team effort, there may be a problem.” (Michigan dentist)
  • “It's a fine idea – the spouse can be a buffer between the dentist and the staff. Lots of times they will tell the spouse why the dentists idea won't work where they just won't do it or tell him the reason it isn't being done.” (Tennessee dentist)
  • “For the good of the team, the wife has to walk a fine line not to be the super bitch.” (Wisconsin dentist)
  • “Yes, it can be but it also has its downside. Spouses are like partners working toward the same goals. No one is more dedicated than the owners of a practice. Down side is that the staff can feel jealous. Unless the boundaries are established, the staff can feel confused on who is boss. The
    partners needs to be as one when dealing with any issues which arise in the office. Again, couples who work together needs to remember to keep
    work separate from their personal life… that can be difficult not to bring home the work.” (California dentist)

It all depends

  • "It depends on personalities.” (Maryland dentist)
  • “For some, not for others.” (New Jersey periodontist)
  • “Can be good.. but even an initially good working situation can be turned into a poisonous one over time, due to changes in the other staff members or changes within the spousal relationship itself! On the other hand NO ONE understands the stress (financially and otherwise) on the business owner like the owner's SPOUSE! So the spouse can be a balancing factor between the wants and needs of the staff and those of the practice owner, as well as a motivating factor in the practice's marketing efforts."

Playing different roles?

  • “It depends on the person and the activities of both. Is the husband a dentist and wife front desk? Are they both dentists? It’s a matter of setting rules from the beginning.” (North Carolina oral surgeon)
  • “He's good at dentistry and I'm a finance person, so it works.” (Virginia dentist)
  • “We've worked together for 14 years, since right after we married. It was never part of our ‘plan,’ but she filled in when my receptionist quit with no notice. She has a business degree and business background. She saved the day then, and is now my office manager. She is the hardest working member of my team, and if she ever quits, I'm leaving too!” (Georgia orthodontist)

A dental spouse is a valuable asset

  • “I am the dental spouse. I have worked in the office at 3 separate times. This last time has been the most successful because, I believe, that 'my dentist' finally realizes that it is a rare employee who will honestly handle the money and give 100% to make the business successful. Although I have never been a chairside assistant and came from a different career, my dedication to Our Business and Our Patients makes me an outstanding asset to the practice." (Nevada dentist)

Some workplaces discourage spouses

  • “I worked with my spouse for 18 years. She has an MBA as well as a dental background, so she was very helpful. My business grew and I took on a partner, but the partner did not like spouses working in the office. I think he had real issues with her experience and the fact that she might be better at the job than him. A lot of dentists are finding this to be a revelation that is happening in dentistry like in other businesses. Some wives (or women dentist that have men spouses that work in the office) have great skills and some dentists are still in the ‘Secrets from inside the clubhouse’ mentality. I think the other dentist just thought it might make his playing field not level if a spouse was in the office. I disagree. When you get a partnership, it always seems to be about who has the power.” (Texas oral surgeon)


Note: Survey sample included 177 respondents.

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