I spent the first 15 years of my dental assisting career afraid to ask my dentists some questions. The questions that scared me were the ones I thought the dentists would look at me and think, “How do you not already know this?” For example, I had no problem asking a dentist, “Why do people not have room for their third molars anymore?” or “Why do you prefer a short needle instead of a long one?” These questions were easy for me. The hard ones involved clinical terminology. I thought the dentists would be disappointed if they knew I didn’t fundamentally understand these things that we’d been talking about for years.
I can’t tell you how many notes I transcribed for dentists that I had no idea what I was writing. For instance, “Patient presents with xerostomia complications,” or “Patient unable to recreate bite to determine CR.” I usually googled them, but why did I not have the courage to just ask the doctor? I think it comes down to this: I always felt intimidated by the dentists’ intellect. I could never connect with them on a human level; they were simply intimidating to me. I thought I could never approach them and call attention to my lack of knowledge. I’m ashamed to say that half of my mistakes in the practice were a direct result of not asking the right questions. How can a rock star assistant foresee the needs of the dentist if that assistant doesn’t really know why she is doing what she’s doing?
This all changed one day when I stumbled upon a podcast recorded by a dentist. I listened eagerly to each and every one, slowly coming to the realization that dentists are human too. They have questions they don’t know the answers to, they have things in common with me, and they aren’t perfect. This helped me open up the lines of communication with my dentists. Turns out, there really are no stupid questions. When I did ask them something, I was showing my dentists that I cared and wanted to be a better version of myself. I realized that making mistakes and not knowing what to set up was only causing stress to both the doctors and me. I became a better assistant by asking questions.
I realize that no one wants to show signs of weakness by asking things that they feel they should already know. But the true strength I found was filling in all of the gaps toward becoming the intellectual I never thought I could be. Today I’m the host of the podcast DA Rockstars, in which I help dental assistants discover how much value they can bring to a practice inside and outside the operatory, one podcast at a time. I hope you take the time to listen, and please, feel free to send me your questions.
Ronda Holman found her passion for dental assisting while in the Air Force. She assisted in oral surgery, general dentistry, and ended her four-year service as a prophy tech, the military’s version of a dental hygienist. She married and spent 13 years traveling the country while her husband served in the Air Force. Each time Ronda relocated she got the opportunity to work in a new dental office, where she picked up pearls that have helped her become an expert in educating dental assistants. Her interests are immediate denture/partial fabrication, CEREC technology, patient education, and striving for optimal chairside skills. Ronda believes that every dental assistant has the potential to be a rock star assistant if given the right tools and guidance.