A dental assistant can be viewed as an extra set of hands for the dentist or dental surgeon. Anyone performing this role in a dental clinic will find that the role will offer them a wide variety of duties that are challenging and provide them with dynamic and invigorating work. This article will discuss the requirements of a dental assistant and what duties they may be expected to perform.
The chief requirement of this role is that the assistant possess excellent “chair assisting skills”. This means that they need to be able to: prepare and maintain dental instruments, supplies and equipment; collect and record patients’ health histories; manage patients during dental procedures; swiftly transfer required dental instruments from the tray to the dentist; prepare dental materials such as composites, amalgams and cements; know and use dental procedure isolation techniques; handle dental charts; prevent and manage dental emergencies; manage and control dental inventory.
An assistant may also be required to perform ‘expanded functions’ which may involve duties such as: placing and removing rubber dams, matrices and wedges; applying cavity liners and bases; placing, condensing, carving and contouring amalgam restorations; and placing and finishing composite resin restorations, including sealant material.
Dental assistants are depended upon to provide the necessary tools like dental surgical lights to the dentist’s fingers at a moment’s notice, to monitor the patient’s vital signs during a procedure, and making the important preparations behind the scenes. Each dental tool must be properly sanitized and examined for functionality, with specific sets being made available prior to various operations. The assistant generally reviews the medical history with the patient and greets them with a reassuring manner. It sometimes takes some work to calm new patients the first time in the dentist’s chair – it was after all a dentist who invented the electric chair!
People of all types and ages may walk into the dentist office, so good interpersonal skills are a valued asset. Babies less than three months old don’t have plaque inducing bacteria or cavities, but other children provide a special challenge for those with dental assistant training. It is important to have a warm and inviting demeanor to make the dentist as fun a place as possible and earn their trust, perhaps holding their hand to show them around the office before the procedure begins. Kids laugh about 400 times a day compared to 15 for adults, so a little toy and joke should break the ice.
Dental offices have come a long way since the days in early America when folks would go to their local barber for a trim, shave, some bloodletting and a tooth extraction. From computerized billing systems to dental tools themselves, processes have evolved to become as pain-free as possible. The career success of both dental assistants and those who have completed medical office assistant courses will largely depend on the strength of relationships with doctors and dentists in the office, while combining technical, interpersonal and organizational skills.
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