The best person to ask as what it takes to be an excellent dental assistant is a dentist. The dentist will spend about 90% of the working day with the dental assistant in the treatment rooms or in the lab area. Working side by side they get to know each other's habits very well.
Ask a dentist about assisting work and you will get an answer that will be very different than what a dental assistant might say about they do for the practice. Dental assistants most likely will focus on their super chair-side skills and their knack for getting the apex on a second molar x-ray. While these are expected skills, not all dental assistants can deliver them in a consistent fashion unless they concentrate on what they are doing.
If a dental assistant is not trained or not competent in taking x-rays and they have to retake them, this is not only poor in the eyes of the dentist but upsetting to the patient. Even now with digital films, there is still exposure to radiation that patients don’t like or consider necessary.
Sometimes the dental assistant does not take x-rays that can render a clear diagnosis. If the patient has dental insurance, the insurance company will need to see supporting evidence on the x-ray to agree to pay the claim. The astute dental assistant knows they must have good quality x-rays and valid clinical notes to create proper records and to ensure payment of dental claims.
Assisting abilities are important when it comes to keeping the field of work visible with the suction tip and most importantly, keeping the mirror dry so that the dentist can see the tooth. “It isn’t just about the suction as it is about why the suction”, says a dentist friend of mine. “Dental assistants need to know the procedure and why they are doing each step.”
What are the Amazing 8 traits that make a good dental assistant?
Here are the results of my survey of dentist associates:
- Knowing when to speak and when to be quiet. In the middle of seating porcelain veneers is not the time to talk about the local soccer match. Matching the mood of the provider requires good observation skills and sensitivity to the situation. If the dentist is studying the prep the dental assistant should be watching and listening to see if there will be some directions or requests made.
- Having a professional, clean appearance. Wrinkled, stained uniforms should never enter the treatment room on a dental assistant ready for the workday. Patients equate neatness and cleanliness with the services they are receiving.
- Knowing all of the procedures performed in the practice and each instrument and sequence of usage in the procedure. Being prepared is being organized and proactive. Setting up the room properly and making sure equipment is plugged in, the proper handpiece is in place and the right bur is in the handpiece to begin. When the dentist is in the middle of a procedure it is embarrassing to have to get up and get an instrument that should have been on the set-up.
- A good dental assistant skips the blame game. The professional dental assistant takes pride in their work and also accepts the responsibility when things don’t go as planned. Blaming another team member should not be a common way to get out of responsibility. Dentists will talk about the staff drama and how they wish it would just disappear. A loyal dental assistant does not contribute to gossip or office drama. By not contributing to the drama it will not escalate.
- A good dental assistant is not a dentist substitute. Remember assisting abilities do not include diagnosing dentistry. Even though assistants can see things in the x-rays and in the mouth doesn’t grant a license to dispense advice. A dental assistant is in a good position to support the clinicians but no matter how experienced is not a dentist and not responsible for the ultimate outcome of the treatment recommended to the patient.
- A great dental assistant is not a fortune teller. Also, in the realm of diagnosing is the dental assistant who predicts the patient's fate if they do not do the treatment now. “This tooth is going to get an infection and need a root canal if you don’t get the cavity fixed.” While this may be true it is not appropriate to predict this outcome to the patient. Often a patient will ask the dental assistant, “would you have this treatment done?” To which the dental assistant might say, “yes, because the procedure that the doctor has explained is supported by symptoms and evidence from the evaluation and the x-rays.”
- The best dental assistants are team players. You will never hear, “that’s not my job” from a dental assistant who is committed to practice success. Other staff members get sick or have family emergencies to attend to and the rest of the team must fill in and help with the patients and the phones or in other areas where they are needed. Dental assistants should be able to navigate the practice dental software to be able to enter treatment rendered and future treatment, schedule an appointment and collect payments due.
- The serious career dental assistant wants to improve their skills and learn new techniques. A pivotal role of a valued dental assistant is to grow and change as the practice grows and changes. Dentists attend courses on new clinical techniques and on newer and better ways to manage the practice. They need a dental assistant to help and cooperate with these changes and new ideas. A dental assistant stuck in the past may soon be without a job.
Dental assisting is a skilled position that has many opportunities for growth if the assistant is open to expanding knowledge and skills. A skilled, licensed and professional dental assistant will always be able to find employment in the growing field of dental care.