What is a dental assistant? Simply put, it’s someone who assists the dentist in maintaining the dental practice.
The services provided by the assistant are both in the areas of patient care and in administrative or office duties. Patient care services include assistance to the dentist during procedures, preparing the patient for treatment, developing x-rays, preparing materials for making impressions, sterilizing and disinfecting instruments and equipment, and preparing and laying out the materials required for the treatment of each patient. Office duties include obtaining and maintaining records, scheduling patients, preparing billing statements, handling payments, and keeping track of the supplies and materials that are needed in the office.
Dental assistants may also be trained to do laboratory work, such as making dental cases and making temporary crowns. In some instances they may actually be called upon to remove sutures, apply anesthetics to gums and cavity preventive agents to the teeth. Assistants may also be relied upon to maintain the tools and equipment needed in the dental practice. They often instruct patients on postoperative and general oral healthcare. Dental assistants, however, should not be confused with hygienists, who are trained and licensed to work on specific clinical duties.
A dental assistant works exclusively in the dentist’s office, helping the dentist run the practice smoothly. Employing a dental assistant allows the dentist to focus on the more expensive treatments and procedures; it is foreseen that the need for them will continue to grow.
What skills does a dental assistant need to possess?
Reliability is an important trait, as well as the ability to work well with others. The assistant works under the direct supervision of the dentist and is considered an important part of the office team.
A dental assistant needs to have manual dexterity so that he or she may better assist the dentist during a dental procedure. Dexterity is needed in handling the equipment that is used. The dental assistant may also be asked to carry out minor procedures for which steady hands are needed.
There are no formal trainings required of entry-level assistants. Although there are institutions that offer dental assisting programs, most dental offices only require a period of on-the-job training in order to familiarize the dental assistants with their specific requirements and working styles. What is important is the capability of the assistant to work as part of the team, and that everyone in the team work comfortably with each other.
Working as an assistant may either be a part-time or a full-time day job that may or may not require evening, weekend, and/or holiday work. It has been noted that more than a third of dental assistants worked on a part time basis in 2008.
There is much promise in a career in dental assisting due to increasing demand for dental services. With access to dental care becoming more affordable in recent years, people have begun seeking the services of good dentists for their dental care needs. Even members of the younger generation have been frequenting dental offices for preventive dentistry interventions. This has resulted in an increase in the demand for assistants; this job has been observed to be one of the fastest growing careers in the market.