Dental assistants, there is a storm on the horizon. It's about time.

A message to dental assistants: Dental assisting is a profession, and each of you should take every possible step to be the professional you should be and are expected to be by each patient who sits in your chair. Know what you can and can’t do and be the professional who your patients think you are.

Apr 9th, 2013
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When it’s springtime in Oklahoma, thunderstorms will come. It’s a fact of life, and it’s something that has been part of my life for 43 years. I’ve had many people ask me if I’m afraid of storms and tornadoes because I live in the heart of Tornado Alley. I’m not. I am amazed by their power.

It was Easter weekend in Tulsa and I returned home late on Saturday night after watching a local basketball game. I had received a text during the game about some storms in the area, but walked out of the arena to find nothing but stars overhead. The storms were well off to the east and no threat.

As I drove home, the lightning coming out of those storms was amazing. Despite the storms being 100 miles away, the eastern part of the sky was lighting up like the Fourth of July. I smiled because I love a good thunderstorm.

I got home, poured a glass of wine, turned off all of the lights in my house, took my black Labrador out in the backyard with me, and sat at my patio table. It was completely dark and quiet. I sipped the wine. My black Lab was curled up at my feet. The lightning flashed in the distance while the stars shone overhead. It had been a while since I’d had such a peaceful moment, and I soaked it in.

I had spent the last 48 hours covering a story that had grabbed national media headlines. A Tulsa oral surgeon (whose office was two miles from where I work) had had his practice shut down by the Oklahoma Board of Dentistry. More than 7,000 patients were told they needed to be tested for HIV and Hepatitis. Two dental assistants are at the center of it all because they started IV sedations in a state where they aren’t allowed to do that.

I had spoken with the executive director of the Oklahoma Board of Dentistry that morning for 45 minutes, and her comments about the dental assistants and what they did were perhaps the most disturbing to me. If you know me, you know I have a soft spot for dental assistants and the amazing work they do every day around the country. Hearing what she said in our interview, I knew these dental assistants were in trouble and dental assisting as a profession would have some quick public relations work to do.

I sipped my wine and watched the lightning flash in the distance. It reminded me of dental assisting at that moment. While it was peaceful in one place (your state), a storm was raging in another (my state) ... partly because of the actions of a dental assistant.

In today’s information-filled world, there’s no excuse for not knowing what you can and can’t do as a dental assistant. I don’t know how many times I’ve gone to the Dental Assisting National Board’s website to see what dental assistants can do in a certain state. If I can do it, you can do it, and so can anyone else.

Dental assisting is a profession, and each of you should take every possible step to be the professional you should be and are expected to be by each patient who sits in your chair. Know what you can and can’t do and be the professional who your patients think you are.

My hope is that the unlawful actions in Oklahoma will be the start of a change for dental assisting around the country. My hope is that dental assistants won’t just trust what the dentist says, but will actually check the facts to see if they can take impressions, re-cement crowns, or apply sealants. Am I saying you shouldn’t trust your dentist? Absolutely not. Am I saying you should take it upon yourself to know the facts about your job and career? Absolutely.

I also hope that we are drawing closer to a day when the duties for a dental assistant are the same in Oklahoma, Ohio, Oregon, and every other state that doesn’t start with “O.” It’s time to stop the confusion for assistants who move with their families to a different state and have to take a step backward in their career because of archaic dental laws. It’s time that state dental associations around the nation accept that dental assistants are an extremely valuable part of the team and should be treated as such.

There is a storm on the horizon, my friends. It’s about time.

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