Dentists are not alone in maintaining the oral health of the public. Dental assistants are key to keeping patients healthy and support not only dentists, but also, hygienists and office managers. Dental assistants are irreplaceable and require the technical skills to provide safe dental services and the skills it takes to manage people. They are the first and last person to connect with the patient at a dental visit, and their human connection with patients is one of their many important roles. Patient care is a top quality of a successful dental assistant.

Explaining Procedures

This aspect of dental assisting is really more an extension of customer service. Some patients have never seen an oral care professional. Most only know about the basic preventive services such as cleanings, fillings, and x-rays. Dental assistants play a large part in bridging the gap between dentists and their patients.

Explaining the details of a dental procedure and answering patient questions make them more willing to undergo advanced dental services. For patients that are children, dental assistants can explain what they are doing and why, and help make the dental instrument noise less frightening. A compassionate and knowledgeable dental assistant helps set the stage for a successful visit.

Chairside Assistance

Dental assistants are the extra pair of hands needed for dental professionals, performing such needed tasks as preparing the tray for the procedure, passing the instruments, managing suction to keep the patient’s mouth dry and clear, and monitoring the patients for emergency needs throughout the procedure. Procedures can be performed with greater efficiency, which allows time for the dentist to assist the next patient in a more timely manner.

A chairside assistant is very beneficial to the patient as well. The patient looks to them for emotional support to stay relaxed throughout the procedure. This allows the procedure to be done much to the patient’s comfort and satisfaction. The role can begin with the dental assistant personally offering patients a smile, a cup of coffee, or a blanket and earning their trust and confidence.

Managing Difficult or Nervous Patients

Most difficult patients are simply nervous. Up to 20% of adults avoid oral care because of stress and dental phobia. Many exhibit signs of anxiety due to nervousness, which may take the form of irritability or progress into panic. The dental assistant acts as a calming presence and can be a voice of reassurance. They must have good verbal and non-verbal communication skills to better meet patient’s needs.

It helps if a patient feels like they are in the presence of old friends. To accomplish this, dental assistants need to be friendly and positive. A little compassion goes a long way for repeat customers. In order to inspire patient confidence, the highest standards should be observed by dental assistants. All dental professionals, including dental assistants, must advocate for what is best and be respectful of what the patient wants.

Managing Aftercare

Giving patients detailed follow-up instructions is a must. The procedure is not successful until recovery is accomplished, and the patient is satisfied. Dental assistants are the ones to explain self-care after procedures. This is to include how to report unexpected symptoms as well as how to handle emergencies. They are to take an active role in patient education whenever and wherever they can by providing the patient with dental hygiene instructions. Once this is complete, an appointment needs to be scheduled to follow-up with patients. In some instances, dental assistants handle patient billing and payments as well. These things free the dentist to have more time to spend with their patients.

Sterilization and Cleaning

Dental health professionals are on the front lines of the war against infection. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has published their Guidelines for Infection Control in Dental Health Care Settings. The dental assistant is to take used equipment and pieces from operating rooms and chairs to be sterilized upon completion of each procedure. Once this has been done, the dental assistant restocks each drawer and each room. Most of the time, it is up to the dental assistants to organize the rooms and drawers because they set up the rooms for procedures. If your dental instruments are harboring microbes, infection can take hold quickly. Follow guidelines strictly to minimize the risk of infection and ensure the life of your instruments.

Since the pandemic, dental assistants have implemented social distancing and infection control policies. It is of the utmost importance for the connection between the patient and the dental team to be strong. Dental assistants’ in-person contributions make them irreplaceable in the practice and invaluable to each patient’s dental appointment experience.

Have you considered the possibility of pursuing a career as a dental assistant? Different states have varying licensure and certification requirements. Are you someone who enjoys personal interactions, has a soothing personality, is skilled at working with your hands, and desires a career with an important level of responsibility? If so, a career as a dental assistant may be a great fit. For more information on obtaining the training you need, visit the SPS Dental Academy website.