The Swedish policy objectives in dental care provision – to meet public demands for dental care and to increase the cost-effectiveness of the service – require dentists to work in teams with dental hygienists and dental nurses. This study focused on the role of dentists in the distribution of work tasks within teams in one Swedish Public Dental Service organisation. Dental clinics were viewed as micro-political arenas in which dentists attempt to demarcate professional boundaries in response to teamwork.
Semi-structured interviews, observations and documents were used. The interviewed individuals were seven dentists employed at two clinics, the managers of each clinic and the general manager. The dentists were interviewed to investigate how they defend or blur professional boundaries. They were also observed at work. The clinic managers and the general manager were interviewed to identify their expectations of dentists concerning work division. The documents comprised organisational plans and annual reports.
Dentists demarcated professional boundaries by utilising various power resources: treatment responsibility, specialist knowledge, discretion, and avoidance of work considered to be low status work. The dentists also contributed to blurred boundaries between themselves and the other dental professionals by discussing patient treatment, giving and receiving advice, and assisting the others in skill development.
Although dentists' boundary work could obstruct implementation of policy objectives, dentists' behaviour contributed to effective collaboration within the teams.