According to the Dental Assistants National Board (DANB)( www.danb.org), “the demand for dental assistants is expected to grow 25 percent between 2012 and 2022”.
This is important news for the profession of dentistry as the value of a highly skilled dental assistant is one of the finest assets a dentist can have.
The attraction to dentistry for dental assistants is very much the same as what attracts dentists, helping people toward better health. Most dental assistants are nurturing and caring individuals with a true interest in people. The education to achieve the title of dental assistant varies from state to state as do the duties that a dental assistant is by law allowed to do.
It is extremely important that the dentist is knowledgeable of these laws in regards to what a dental assistant can and can not do to help patients in the practice. Most dental assistants work closely together with the dentist. If the dental assistant pursues further education, certification and licensing she/he may be allowed by law, to work indirectly and will be supervised only on more complicated tasks.
In general dental assistants must be proficient at the basic level with the following skills:
Seating and preparing the patient for procedures in the treatment room. Checking blood pressure.
Take and process radiographs (must be licensed or certified by the state) and know the safety protocols for radiation exposure.
Assisting the dentist at the dental chair with procedures and treatments as directed by the dentist.
Preparing treatment rooms with tray set-ups and equipment in a sterile environment.
Preparing and sterilizing instruments according to proper protocols.
Breaking down the room, sterilizing it and preparing it for the next patient per protocol.
While most of these tasks are almost robotic and routine, there is much more a dental assistant can and should do, to provide for the patient and the practice that can bring more challenge and interest to the position.
The following 7 traits increase the value of a dental assistant
1. Looks at dentistry as a career and not just a job
An in demand dental assistant interested in education and learning new skills and honing existing skills. Makes becoming a certified or registered dental assistant and learning expanded functions future goals. The involved dental assistant takes an active part in the practice staff meetings and has ideas to improve the systems of patient care. Many dental assistants don’t believe they are listened to when it comes to changing how things are done in the office. This is true if they don’t make their voice heard.
2. Has a “buy-in” attitude toward making the patient safe and happy
The right dental assistant takes the initiative to answer patient concerns. Checks the patient’s health history intake form for critical health issues. Puts the patient first over other routine tasks. Will ask: Is the patient warm? Is the patient comfortable? Does the patient understand the treatment? Is the patient thirsty? etc.
3. Has strong knowledge of the procedures and services offered by the practice
He/she must be able to inform the patient as to what is available for their care and to also be able to answer questions intelligently and confidently. The best dental assistants can anticipate the dentist's needs during a procedure and are ready with the correct instrument, supplies or handpiece for the job. Dentists don’t like to ask for instruments when the dental assistant should know what comes next.
Dentists report that being prepared with all necessary equipment and supplies is one of the top requirements of a dedicated dental assistant.
4. Supports the dentist and the dental hygienist in the diagnosis of treatment
The highest paying dental assistant are outstanding in regard to communicating the pros and cons of the proposed treatment. When the dentist has left the room after diagnosing a course of treatment, patients will often ask the dental assistant questions in regards to the treatment that they were embarrassed to ask the dentist. The prepared and educated assistant will know how to respond.
At this point, a dental assistant can be very valuable to build a chain of trust. If the dental assistant can reassure the patient and give them the information that they need, the patient will feel more confident to make the right decision for their care.
5. Is very neat and organized with excellent time management skills
A great dental assistant is aware of what is happening in each treatment room and when the next patient is due to arrive. The dentist and the hygienist look to the dental assistant to keep them on time and to direct the flow of patients in the clinical area of the practice.
6. The agreeable dental assistant is willing to be cross-trained to help in the business area
Being a member of the dental team often means working outside the box of comfort. Many times during the day the front desk can be a daunting area with phones ringing constantly and patients coming in and patients leaving, needing to pay or to hear about a treatment plan. The dental assistant that can jump in and help by making an appointment, taking payment or discussing treatment is worth her/his weight in gold.
7. Promotes the practice and the career of dentistry
The highly sought after dental assistant becomes involved with community healthcare projects and is a member of the local dental assistant society or social media groups promoting dentistry and dental assisting. When the dental assistant is not working in the office she/he is with family or friends or pursuing other activities. If the subject of dentistry comes up the proud dental assistant will help to bring new patients into the practice by educating and providing information about the dentist and the office.
Dentists want the best person possible as their assistant and they also want this person to be an integral part of the practice culture and vision. Finding the savvy, smart, dedicated dental assistant that fits the criteria is worth the extra effort and the rewards are many.
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