10 Attributes and Skills That Make an Exceptional Dental Assistant
By: Courtney Martin
Dental Assisting is an in-demand career that provides the great opportunity to be the link between the doctor and patient in a variety of settings. Ohio Valley College of Technology’s Dental Assisting Program Director, Jamie Stine, shares her “Top Ten” list of attributes and skills necessary that make an exceptional Dental Assistant.
# 10: Infection Control
Infection Control is the steps and procedures taken to prevent the spread of germs and disease throughout a dental or medical office. Dental assistants should be very knowledgeable about the various ways contamination happens, diseases spread, and how carelessness in the cleaning or sterilization process could lead to the infection of patients, oneself, family, and others. It is important that the assistant is able to properly sterilize equipment and tools, especially those that are reused, as well as all touchable surfaces including chairs, trays, counters, door knobs, etc. This also extends to wearing the proper protective equipment to create a safe barrier that protects the patient and dental staff from contamination via contact or saliva.
#9: Excellent Communicator
The best dental assistants make effective communication a priority while engaging patients and coworkers. The nature of their position puts them into contact with others every day. Thus, it is necessary that they understand the nuances of how things they say could be interpreted in a positive or negative way. In a dental office, where many patients are apprehensive, the dental assistant could be the difference between a patient feeling safe and comfortable or more nervous and frightened during an appointment or procedure. That feeling created via communication could make or break a patient’s decision to return, or could affect an office’s reputation within the community. The assistant works closely with the dental staff and must be able to communicate clearly so the team can work in unison.
#8: Taking & Processing X-Rays
X-rays are an important tool that dental offices use to diagnose and treat their patients because they provide details about the teeth, tissues, and bone, that may not be visible with the naked eye. Typically, the dental assistant is the one who takes and processes the x-rays. Thus, it is important that a dental assistant have a significant amount of training experience with the various types of dental x-rays that are used in the field. A poor quality x-ray could result in a patient not being treated with the proper level of care necessary. Usually, dental offices require that dental assisting candidates possess a state recognized certification to take and process x-rays.
#7: Well Rounded Understanding & Use of Dental Terminology
Just like the medical field, the dental field is immersed in its own language of important terms and phrases. It is important that the dental assistant is very familiar and well-versed with this terminology as it will affect their ability to understand what is going on in the office. These terms are universal from office to office and are used every day and with every patient. Without a strong grasp on this lingo, it increases the chances of making mistakes, or worse, hurting the patient or another dental team member.
The success of a dental team is very dependent on the cohesiveness of all of the team members. Some of the most sought after dental assistants are those who possess expertise in various aspects of the office. This allows them to jump in wherever they are needed. A cross-trained assistant can, not only, work in the clinical side of the office, but also, in the front and treatment areas. Many offices seek candidates who have the ability to easily flow between all types of duties and settings.
#5: Taking Impressions & Models
Just like x-rays, impressions and models are an essential and effective tool used in the dental office to diagnose and treat a wide spectrum of dental or oral issues. These are also utilized to create appliances to treat dental issues. A local dentist says, “A good assistant must take good impressions.” This is because a lot of the work that is done by the dentist is based off of the impressions an assistant takes. When a dental assistant makes an excellent impression, they ensure that they are developing a strong and reliable visual and base for the dentist. Even small imperfections could skew this visual, resulting in poor fitting or ineffective appliances, or, an incorrect diagnosis. By getting these right the first time, a dental assistant saves the patient and the office time and money.
#4: Adaptability & Flexibility
The dental field is always changing. Every day new products, tools, and technologies make their way into the office. It is critical that the assistant is able to quickly adapt to change. The best dental assistants are able to learn and apply their new skills quickly. Also, it is important that the assistant is open to various ways of doing procedures and duties that are within their scope of practice. Every office does things differently and each dentist has their own preference on how they would like to be assisted. Excellent dental assistants make it a priority to quickly learn how the office and dentist operates so they can effectively contribute. Lastly, there are times that the office may be short staffed or very busy. Strong assistants are able to adjust with their environment and maintain a good pace while making their patients the number one priority.
Dental employers seek assistants that always show up on time, can be counted on, and go above and beyond to complete assigned tasks. However, they really want dental assistants that take it a step further by recognizing the importance of the various tasks and responsibilities assigned to them. There is value in an employee who has the ability to manage their time, ensure tasks are accomplished, and demonstrate a strong commitment to the company and job at hand. It is important to note that dental assistants must be reliable to the dentist as well as the other members of the dental team in order to ensure optimal efficiency, meet goals, and resolve issues quickly.
It is essential for dental assistants to be genuine in their conversations and work with their patients. Many patients are already nervous to be at the dentist’s office. An assistant who is honest and secures a patient’s trust is very valuable because they will be able to keep the patient at ease, informed, and compliant with the procedures or exam. Also, by creating genuine and honest experiences in the dental chair, patients will feel more comfortable to come back for future appointments. Dental assistants should work diligently to not just go through the motions, but take the time to be authentic, transparent, and approachable.
#1: Ability to Anticipate the Dentist’s Needs
When dentists hire assistants for their office, an important quality they are looking for is someone they trust to be the link between themselves and the patient for the entirety of the visit. An assistant who can anticipate the needs of the dentist, and be proactive in responding to those needs, is a secret weapon in successful procedures. It allows the dentist to work with greater speed and flow while still maintaining accuracy and quality. It also removes any unnecessary stress or problems for the dentist. Upon starting at a new office, the dental assistant should work hard to learn their dentist’s particular pace and groove for various procedures.