Staff Personal Hygiene

Staff Personal Hygiene


One of our Dental Nurses seems to have a problem with personal hygiene.  Some members of staff have remarked on it especially after using the facilities after her, and it is certainly noticeable in the surgery she works in especially when it is warm and so some patients must also be aware of it, but it was highlighted yesterday when she took her home leggings off and hung them on a radiator to dry having got drenched on her way to work.  The smell emanating from her clothes was very unpleasant and pervaded the corridor and one of the Partners remarked on it. 

The best way I can describe the smell is by comparing it to the fishy smell that autoclaves release when the canisters in the RO system need changing. 

Has anyone else had to deal with such a situation?  Any advice would be gratefully received.


I know this is a very tricky subject to address. However I would approach it head on as it needs to be addressed. I would have a quiet word with the nurse in my offer and ask her if she had any problems at home- i.e. has boiler/washing machine broken etc.  As there may be a problem at home. If once discovered that there isn't I would then go on to discuss the problem about her personal hygiene.

This must be addressed, but with upmost care and sensitivity .It also may be a medical problem. As a practice manager it is our job to address it.


I took the person to one side and discussed washing uniforms every day at 60 degrees at home. You can make it a discussion individually or as a group to not necessarily single this person out. I said to this person very diplomatically that on occasion there was an odour and you wanted to approach her before anyone else did so she feels the problem is discussed before it blows up into something un-necessary.

It is very hard to do but they will appreciate it if you handle it with care and consideration.


There is only one way, TELL HER! You can be gentle and suggest maybe her washing machine not functioning properly or maybe the deodorant doesn't cope with the stressful effects of being a dental nurse but YOU HAVE TO TELL HER!!

I have been there twice, they don't like to be told and find it hard to believe but it is the only way.


I understand where you are coming from, we have had the same, but not as bad. However, there is a condition, not sure if it is kidneys or liver, where the sufferer gives off a fishy smell, they are not necessarily aware of the condition and are definitely not aware of the smell.

We just said to all nurses as a start to be aware of personal hygiene, and that did cure it, if it didn’t we were going to tackle her head on, it would have been the only way. However, if she is suffering from this condition, she is probably not aware, and really not sure how you can handle that, as it can only be helped by seeing a GP and then medication.


I would personally get the Practice Manager or whomever is in charge to ask her for an informal meeting.

At the meeting I would discuss the importance of cleanliness and highlight these points to her.

I once had a nurse who had a similar problem, but no one would speak with her, so I did, it turns out her mum was terminally ill and she was using all her spare time to care for her, not caring for herself – which unless I had asked her we would never had known her underlying problems.

This was resolved as she had no money for toiletries as all her monies were being used on bus fare etc., she was not only exhausted but really making herself ill.

I would have a word with her, she may not even be aware of the smell or indeed her personal hygiene routine, she may need some guidance.

I have in my 22 years of being a practice manager and 8 years as a PA had to inform about 3 staff 1 was a dental surgeon – if no one says anything it can get worse and result in staff bullying and making unnecessary comments behind their backs.

Hope you get on ok.

If not get her a full personal hygiene set for her secret Santa present ! With a private note in their – she will never know who sent it

Personally I would prefer to be told directly – and maybe given a little time off to correct this


I have had deal with a similar situation in the past. It was most embarrassing, but the only way to deal with it is to just have a discrete word with her and maybe have de-odorant in the staff room and bathroom area. I always keep air freshener in both places as well.

It may be that she is a very valued member of the team and you don't want to lose her.


I've had to have the talk with my old Principal dentist because of body odour and bad breath. I was just honest about it and he was very embarrassed by it as was I. 


I would suggest that you first off have a dress code and hygiene policy – this will state what you expect from your staff in terms of clean uniform, cleans hands / nails and also a high level of personal hygiene.

If you can incorporate a form of feedback into your appraisals – google 360 degree feedback – this could help as anonymously others could comment on positive and negative aspects of working with each other.

Otherwise if action is needed imminently – I would check contracts with regards to dress codes or hygiene and have an informal meeting to begin with (still recorded) – explaining the concerns in the practice and hope that a gentle polite nudge might help.


I had a similar situation many years ago with a nurse who used to walk to work and was inclined to be a bit sweaty – I took her aside and spoke to her and she was almost grateful that I had spoken to her before anyone made a comment! 

I would suggest you deal with your situation with care as there is a female medical condition which gives the symptom of a ‘fishy smell’ – she may be aware of the problem already.


Yes I had to deal with this situation when I worked in practice as a senior dental nurse, at that time we didn’t have a practice manager.

I quite simply asked the person if we could have a chat about something that I had noticed putting the emphasis on me as opposed to others who had raised the issue. Due to the nature of the smell which was clearly associated with feminine personal hygiene I was honest in pointing out that I couldn’t help but notice she may have a health related problem which needed to be addressed. 

My approach was sensitive and understanding and I asked if she had any medical problems which she wanted to talk about as I was concerned for her health and well-being, I emphasised she didn’t have to talk to me and if she preferred to talk to someone else I would suggest she talk to her GP or the practice nurse.

She was willing to discuss her problem with me which highlighted other issues in her personal life relating to lack of stability at home, inadequate laundry facilities and other issues associated with the possibility of becoming homeless due to family problems. I was able to signpost her to services where she could get help with the social problems this boosted her morale substantially. In turn this motivated her to addressing the feminine personal hygiene issues.

In summary all this person needed was the issue being pointed out to her in the first place, without skirting round it, and someone to talk to about the other problems in her life.


November 2014

What our Members Say