The most visible staffers in a dental health practice are usually the dental hygienist and the dentist; these are the main providers of dental care. However, there are others who work alongside them and help to provide dental services. Dental assistants are among the most important dental health providers and provide help to dentists in a number of ways. Dental assistant duties will vary depending on the needs of the practice in which they work. In order to prepare dental assistants for a broad range of responsibilities, some states require them to pass an exam; other states require no formal training. In places where education and certification are required, the training is usually less than a year in duration.
Patient Care Duties
The role of the dental assistant is to make the work of a dentist or dental hygienist easier and to make the patient’s experience more comfortable; to that end, they will:
• Prepare the treatment room for the patient. This will involve following a set of guidelines.
• Welcome the patient by seating and draping them.
• Sterilize the dental instruments and deliver them to the treatment room, making sure that they are positioned within the dentist’s reach.
• Take and develop x-rays.
• Educate patients on oral hygiene and the methods of controlling plaque.
• Instruct patients on proper hygiene after surgery.
• Handle Basic laboratory procedures.
• Ensure that the treatment areas are kept clean and safe in compliance with guidelines.
A dental assistant’s role may include more than clinical work, as some are expected to handle office duties as well. Dental assistants may:
• Manage and retrieve patient records, which means they are expected to maintain patient privacy like any other healthcare provider.
• Handle clerical tasks like setting patient appointments and answering the phone.
• Process payments in the office and send out invoices.
• Maintain the practice’s inventory of dental supplies and order new items as needed.
• Ensure that all dental equipment used in the practice works properly, which may mean calling for repairs and assessing new equipment.
Along with the tasks listed above, dental assistants may be required to provide CPR in the event of a medical emergency. They may also be expected to attend professional seminars and workshops in order to strengthen their knowledge of dentistry.
Skills Needed for the Role of Dental Assistant
Dental assistants will need good communication and social skills; they should be comfortable dealing with patients who are afraid or in pain. Another reason these skills are essential is that their work may call for them to explain aspects of treatment to the patient.
• Accounting Skills
These will be necessary for handling billing, inventory management and other numerical tasks that go into running a dental practice.
Since a dental assistant may be called upon the run the practice’s front office, they should have the ability to keep it organized and efficient.
While formal training is not always a requirement it is strongly recommended. The dental assistant career has a very favorable outlook according to the US Government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics; hiring is projected to increase by 25 percent between 2012 and 2022. Having certification can position a dental assistant to take advantage of that and to have a long and fulfilling career.