When you walk into a dental office there are various people who are involved in your care and treatment other than the dentist. This is our second article in this series in which we are providing you with some insight into the duties and responsibilities of your dental health providers. In this article we discover the diverse duties of the Dental Assistant, which can simply be described as the extended hands of the dentist or dental surgeon and therefore a vital member of the dental health professional team.
Dental assistants are hired to perform a variety of patient care, laboratory and office duties and responsibilities while working closely with and alongside the dentist to provide assistance when necessary. Without an assistant to help the dentist, he would need to grow an extra pair of hands to perform his duties. The dental assistant not only provides support to the dentist, enabling him to maximize his time and expertise, but also performs necessary technical functions.
DUTIES OF THE DENTAL ASSISTANT
A dental assistant’s smile and warm personality can go a long way to lessen a patient’s anxiety. They must have excellent people and communication skills to help patients become comfortable before and especially during a procedure. The ability to listen to patients concerns and provide reassurance and empathy are part of the skills required when dealing with patients. While this is their primary duty it is only a small part of their duties.
A dentist requires the constant use of many instruments and materials to complete procedures, such as fillings, root canals, etc., and often this work must happen quickly. Dental assistants sit or stand opposite the dentists and work in concert with each other during procedures. The assistant manages to do several duties efficiently and simultaneously; eliminating water used during procedures so the patient doesn’t choke, wiping up materials and passing necessary instruments, and still calming the patient as necessary. This work is essentially similar to an small operation; the assistant must be alert and sharp through the procedure, anticipating the dentist’s needs and caring for the patient.
In addition, to the chair side duties that the assistant does, they are also many times required to perform laboratory duties which include preparing materials for dental impressions and restorations, making mouth casts of the teeth from oral impressions, clean and polish removable bridges and dentures, and make temporary crowns, retainers and whitening trays. Additionally, dental assistants double as radiology technicians, taking and processing x-rays of patients’ mouths.
The cleaning and sterilization of equipment and dental treatment room disinfection are some of the most important functions in the office. This duty falls on the dental assistant. Dental tools are not disposable, and there is rigid protocol in place to sterilize equipment. Until completing the sterilization process, the dental assistant must handle all instruments as though contaminated, according to the Centers for Disease Control, OSHA and ADA Standards.
TRAINING AND EDUCATION REQUIREMENTS
Because dentists have varying procedures and techniques, dental assistants are generally responsible for learning on-the-job skills once they are hired by a dentist whether or not they have recently completed a dental-assisting program or have experience as a dental assistant. Individual states vary greatly in their education and training requirements for dental assistants. While many states have no requirements for entry into the profession beyond a high school diploma, most dental assistants are frequently trained to perform their duties by the dentist who employs them or by other staff working within the practice.
Just as with the Dental Receptionists duties described in our last article, the role and career of the Dental Assistant is both demanding an equally rewarding. The smiles on the faces of your patients and making a difference in their lives is just an extra benefit of the job.
Look for our article next month on Dental Hygienists.