Think back to when you last visited your dentist. Who greeted you as you walked into the office? Who was there to ask some follow up questions from your last visit? Who was able to put your mind at ease when thinking about any upcoming procedures you were about to undergo? It was most likely a dental assistant.
Dental assistants are invaluable members of a dental office. They are the face of patient care, providing help with appointments, care, and in some cases, billing and insurance issues. The care they provide is all encompassing. If one is considering a career as a dental assistant, it is essential to get a good idea of what a day in the life of a dental assistant would be. Is the schedule something that you can live with? Are there any parts of their job responsibilities that you would be unwilling or unable to perform? All these are considerations that must be made when considering this career.
What Does A Dental Assistant Do?
The duties of a dental assistant vary from office to office, but most dental assistants usually perform the following duties throughout the course of their day:
- Assisting in treatment procedures–cleaning and treating teeth, educating patients on proper hygiene techniques, and preparing for more complicated procedures such as cavity fillings, root canals, and placing crowns are just some of the things that dental assistants aid the dentist in performing. In addition, dental assistants may be called upon to sterilize and clean their workspace, preparing instruments for use and cleaning up after each patient. These are essential parts to maintaining a clean, disease free work environment.
- Taking, preparing, and reading dental x-rays–X rays are an essential part of good dental practice. X rays that do not disclose proper assessment of patient health or disease pathology can result in serious consequences for both patient and caregiver. Making this a standard part of patient care is something a quality dental assistant incorporates into their day.
- Maintaining compliance with strict infection control and sterilization procedures–Dental practices need to conform to state and national standards for cleanliness and infectious disease control in order to ensure patient safety. Every dental office must demonstrate knowledge of a clean, efficient work environment that promotes the health of the patient and the control and submission of infectious diseases associated with dental care. Items and areas shared by patients can become contaminated with blood, saliva, and other body fluids. Secretions of such must be managed appropriately in order to minimize risk of disease. With an increasingly more educated population of patients looking to reassure themselves upon coming into your environment, having an environment that is neat, clean and organized is something they will look for. The dental assistant is one of the key players in maintaining this calming workspace.
- Performing office management tasks–A busy healthcare environment at times demands that dental assistants take on responsibilities that do not directly involve tooth and mouth care. These parts of the job are essential skills to know and to perform as well. Being able to handle tasks such as scheduling and receiving patients, making follow up calls, and responding to inquiries about billing are all necessary components for making a dental office run smoothly. In addition, a dental assistant may be called upon to answer questions or find out information regarding insurance coverage, care plans and options, and dental record data for patients. Being able to perform these tasks quickly and efficiently will ensure that care for each patient is delivered with dignity and integrity.
Of course, the preceding information is a mere snapshot of what working in a real dental environment entails. Dental assistants may be called upon to perform duties that are not necessarily in any standard job description. Staying flexible and positive in any work environment is essential to maintaining a strong work community.
Drawbacks and Benefits of Becoming a Dental Assistant
It is important to realize that, with any career, there are benefits and drawbacks that people in the field report. Some dental assistants struggle with neck, arm, or back pain as a result of the body positions they are expected to maintain for extended periods of time. Another common complaint is a condition called “carpal tunnel” syndrome, a mildly painful condition where the forearms and hands become inflamed due to repetitive motions and use of certain muscles. Taking care of yourself, getting exercise and following proper self care procedures on the job will reduce risk of injury or discomfort associated with this type of work.
The benefits of this type of work far outweigh any potential drawbacks, as you are making a difference in the lives of your patients by providing assurance, comfort, education and care that will last their entire lives. Creating a positive atmosphere and positive associations around dental care will ensure that good dental health continues for them, thus affecting their lives in a positive manner. You are the face that patients see from the beginning of their experience to the end, and providing that helping hand to reassure, comfort, and educate is critical to helping them realize that good dental health is something they need to prioritize. You impress on your patients your level of care and consideration, and you also demonstrate the commitment you have to your practice, your career, and to the experience of your patients.
A career as a dental assistant is challenging yet rewarding. Those who embark on this journey must have a desire to help others, provide comfort and care in difficult situations, and to maintain professionalism through all aspects of their job. Employment opportunities are growing in this field daily as the importance of good oral hygiene and its effect on overall health are made known to patients. The time to enter the field of dental hygiene is ideal, and it is a wonderful way to make a difference and create quality relationships that will last for years to come.