A career in dental assistance might have you imagining yourself working with a dentist as they treat a patient, but it is hard to imagine what you might be doing. From pictures and personal experience, you know there are medical instruments, gloves to wear, and someone having their teeth checked on, but the specifics are a bit blurry. Who is the assistant and what do they do?
Well, the following list is compiled from the websites of the American Dental Association and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These tasks are what you can expect in the job description of a dental assistant.
- Prepare the work area and patient for the visit
Guiding patients through their visit is a primary task for dental assistants, so the work area must be clean and properly set up for their appointment. This helps the dentist focus on the patient and allows them to work quickly. You may also explain to the patient what the dentist will be doing during their appointment. Dental assistants are in high demand as dentists are seeing more patients and require certified assistants to whom they can allocate tasks.
- Keep the patient comfortable while in the dental chair
A patient’s comfort is a top concern in any healthcare field, and no less important in dental health. Many people are nervous or uncomfortable with having dental care performed. Keeping the person comfortable in the chair and as the dentist works is an important job, as an uncomfortable or upset patient is much more difficult to work on, especially during dental treatment. This is where you can let your empathetic personality come through to soothe their worries and have them finished and out of the chair in no time.
- Assist the dentist during procedures
Dentists don’t have any more hands than we do. On top of that, people’s teeth are in tight quarters, which means dentists often require a great deal of dexterity, as well as an extra set of hands. A dental assistant assists the dentist by handing them instruments as they need them, keeping the work area tidy, using a suction hose to keep the patient’s mouth dry, making sure the patient is comfortable, and many other tasks that help the procedure go smoothly.
- Instruct patients in better dental hygiene
Dental assistants are also verified advisors for dental health. Patients will likely have questions or need instructions regarding their dental hygiene and the way they care for their teeth at home. Through study and hands-on training, you will gain the knowledge and expertise to answer these questions and help patients care for their smiles on their own. It is vital for dental assistants to connect with people and give clear dental advice so that patients can better understand their dental hygiene.
- Take and develop x-rays
Dental radiographs are x-rays of the teeth taken in the lab. Dentists often require assistance with lab tasks such as radiographs, and you may find yourself taking and developing your own x-rays under supervision. Don’t be discouraged if that sounds scary or complex, as you will gain the confidence and skills to take x-rays and perform other lab tasks during your training as a dental assistant. Dental assistants can earn their dental x-ray certification after completing the necessary training courses through a state authorized program.
- Take impressions of patient’s teeth
Taking impressions of patient’s teeth and making models are also lab-related tasks with which dental assistants often assist. Dental assistants play several roles in the office, including junior lab assistant and office assistant, because you will find yourself working in all areas of the field. The dentist may require you to help check patients in, assist in a procedure, make a cast of an impression, or perform any other task that fits your skills. With proper knowledge and certification, you’ll be able to help all over the office.
- Clean and sterilize the work area, instruments, and equipment
A clean workplace is a happy workplace, and essential in healthcare to avoid contamination. Dental assistants are, what the American Dental Association calls, “infection control officers.” This means they learn and practice the standards of cleanliness and sterilization that are required in the field. The work area must be cleaned and sanitized, instruments must be sterilized after procedures, and equipment that was used must be cleaned. These tasks also help the dentist prepare for the next patient and allows them the time to take care of duties which require more expertise.
- Maintain dental records for patients
Dental assistants may also find themselves working with patient records, reviewing them before appointments and documenting them into a digital archive. Office skills come in handy for many careers, so be prepared to potentially learn a bit of clerical work. Not all offices will have you work closely with records or documentation, but it is a useful skill that will make you a more flexible employee. The Academy of Dental Assistants provides training for work in a real dental office.
- Process patients billing and payment
Again, it’s important to remember that dental offices are an active business with invoices, transactions, and goals to meet. Processing billing and payments may be done by a receptionist, but you may also find yourself working as a receptionist at times, checking patients in and handling payments after the appointment. Dental assistants are multi-talented individuals, with talents ranging from inherent interpersonal skills to the hygiene or business skills they learn in their training. Technical certification provides this training and experience for entry-level dental assistants at a tenth of the price of a college diploma.
- Scheduling appointments
Last is scheduling a patient’s next appointment. As a dental assistant, you will help a patient from beginning to end, making their time at the dentist less of a burden and more of an easy experience. There are many tasks and roles involved in being a dental assistant, and many continue their education to become full-on lab technicians, office managers, or work in other specialty fields such as pediatric dentistry or orthodontics. Scheduling appointments might be part of your work duties, but if you find yourself being called to the lab more often to make study casts or develop radiographs, you may have found a niche to grow into as your career moves forward.
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