Every dentist needs a reliable and well trained assistant to ensure optimal care for their patients. A common misperception is that a dental assistant is there to simply pass different instruments to a dentist. The role is far more encompassing than that, involving a wide variety of tasks, from assisting with anesthetic procedures to working with dental radiographs. The job is rewarding, in that it combines practical skill, in-depth knowledge, and having a positive impact on people’s lives. If you think a career as a dental assistant might be for you, here’s everything you need to know.
About a Dental Assisting Career
It is possible to start working as a dental assistant with no experience, but learning on the job isn’t the best way to prepare. There are certified courses available, and many dental practices won’t hire an assistant without one. It helps to have had experience with sciences in your previous studies – biology and chemistry especially. There are online courses available, but for hands-on experience it is preferable to attend a college. Usually evening courses are available, meaning you can study without giving up your current job.
2. What does a dental assistant do?
A dental assistant is an essential part of the team in any practice, supporting the dentist during almost all procedures, and offering post-operative advice for patients, as well as reassurance during more major operations. Assistants are often tasked with sterilising and maintaining instruments such as handpieces, although many dentists choose to outsource this to specialised handpiece companies. Other duties include preparing patients for treatment, assisting during general anaesthetic dental procedures, positioning suction devices, exposing dental radiographs, and taking dental impressions. Dental assistants may also be expected to undertake some administrative duties.
3. Beyond qualifications
There are some things that can’t be taught in school. A successful dental assistant will need many more attributes than technical know-how, so let’s look at a few attributes that will help you bring more to the role.
4. Strong organisation
As with any medical facility, a dental practice is a fast moving and constantly changing environment. Patient records need to be maintained and stored in the right place. The surgery itself needs to be constantly organised to ensure the best possible care for patients. For these reasons a dental assistant needs to have a high level of organisational skills.
5. Attention to detail
A dental assistant will have lots of simultaneous tasks, but all must be done with accuracy and attention to detail. This not only includes record filing and administration, but also organisation of technical equipment, sterilisation of handpieces, and placing instruments in the correct places. A dental assistant must also pay close attention to the patient, observing whether they are comfortable or nervous, and support the dentist in addressing these issues.
A dental practice is a busy environment, and an assistant should be ready to handle multiple tasks at once. While prepping the surgery you may be expected to answer the phone, answer patient queries, and help the dentist find that handpiece that has gone missing. Being able to juggle all these duties helps ensure the smooth running of the practice, and is an important attribute for a dental assistant.
7. Reflexes and dexterity
A dental assistant works with their hands a lot. Dental procedures can require a large range of instruments, and the assistant needs to be ready to select the item the dentist requires in a flash (without dropping it). If your reaction time is slow, your hand/eye coordination is iffy, or you have butterfingers, maybe this isn’t the role for you.
A dental assistant needs the right attitude to succeed. We are talking about professionalism with patients, compassion, understanding, and excellent listening skills. Dental assistants should be hungry to learn anything they can from a dentist. And needless to say, helping people should be high up their list of priorities.
Being a dental assistant is hard work, and demands accuracy and precision. To reach your full potential in the field you must be resilient, have a strong work ethic, and be driven to provide consistently excellent standards.
If you think being a dental assistant is for you, take the next step. Those with the attitude and skills listed above would be great assets to any practice.
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