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COVID-19: How has it affected dental assistants?

April 24, 2020
Everyone is being affected by this crisis. Tija Hunter, CDA, checked in on her dental assisting peers to learn about their struggles, changes they'd like to see when they return to work, and their thoughts on infection control.

I wanted to find out how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected you, dental assistants. So, I took to Facebook to ask some questions, and here’s what assistants had to say.

What has been your biggest struggle during the COVID-19 crisis?

  • Knowing I have patients who are in the process of treatment.
  • Not having a say on what we’re doing in the office. I want to be there to help the patients and doctor but I'm worried about exposure to COVID. 
  • Not being able to contact the unemployment office.
  • Dealing with inconsiderate dentists. 
  • Contracting  COVID-19 and passing it on to patients, especially with improper PPE and the office not following mandated recommendations and protocols. 
  • Not having proper PPE but feeling forced to work or risk getting fired.
  • Being unemployed.
  • Struggling with whether to go into a different field

The fear of contracting this virus, along with not having proper personal protective equipment (PPE), are big issues for many assistants. Others are worried about the difficulties when trying to collect unemployment. Even just filing for it has been a huge issue due to so many people trying to access the website.

Many assistants are also worried about the unknown and what their futures hold. This has been a difficult time in our nation, so we have nothing to compare it to. Our fear is real, but many of us have also witnessed people coming together to help each other. We will get through this and we will return to work, and I believe we’ll have better working environments because of it.

What are some of the changes that you see coming, or would like to see implemented, once we get back to our practices?

  • Better PPE and no stacked schedule
  • Updated and standard safety precautions
  • Mandatory face shields
  • Better PPE and sanitizing protocols 
  • Better benefits
  • Training to help us follow recommendations from OSHA, OSAP, the CDC, and the ADA, as well as full level 3 gowns, respirator masks, face shields with eyewear, surgical caps, and air filtration systems in offices 
  • Spending more time with patients going over health histories

The top concern among dental assistants is the need for more and better PPE, as well as more safety training. Over half of our workforce is trained on the job, and although there is nothing wrong with that, team members are only as good as the people who train them.

How do you feel about mandatory infection control training for all dental assistants?

  • We need it. This should already have this established.
  • I’m all for it.
  • I think there should be mandatory infection control training for anyone working in a dental office.
  • I thought this was already a thing. Infection control is 101 of dental assisting.
  • I would love to see infection control training.
  • Not just dental assistants should have mandatory infection control, the whole office should, including the doctor. I think whatever doctors learn in school or CE courses they dismiss since they aren’t the ones turning over rooms. The training should be annual because rules change

Overwhelmingly, dental assistants think infection control training is a great idea or thought it was already required. Keep in mind that rules and regulations vary greatly from state to state. Some require infection control training and others do not. Having mandatory training and certification should be a national standard. When all dental assistants are trained the same way, we’ll be held to a higher standard and that benefits not only us, but more importantly, our patients.

The American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA) will continue to support all dental assistants and encourage proper training for infection control and prevention for the safety and wellbeing of the public and dental team.

I encourage you to use this time away from your offices wisely and learn all you can about infection control and what you can do better in the dental office. When we get back to work, let’s make our offices better than they have ever been before!

Tija Hunter, CDA, EFDA, CDIA, CDSO, CDSH, MADAA, is a member and current vice president of the American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA), where she holds the honor of Master. Tija is the editor of Dental Assisting Digest and contributes to Dental Economics magazine. She is the director of the Dental Careers Institute, a dental assisting and dental continuing education program, and the author of seven continuing education study courses. She is an international speaker and a certified trainer in nitrous oxide in several states. Tija was named one of the Top 25 Women in Dentistry by DPR magazine in 2015. She can be reached at [email protected].