An example of the drawer cart to start the road to organization.

Avoid that last-second setup panic!

Sept. 27, 2021
All dental practices experience that emergency patient who throws off the whole day. Dental assistants can prepare by following these three Ps.

Your day is starting out great. All the patients are confirmed, you have the rooms set up and ready to go, and all the lab cases are in the building. Then out of hygiene you hear that the doctor has an emergency patient who needs a root canal. Bam! You are now in a total panic because, let’s face it, you have 10.7 seconds to set up the entire world in room two. 

How many of you can relate to this scenario? I know I did for a long time. But then someone shared a few magic tips with me about how to get everything I need quickly and in under 10.7 seconds.

It’s all about the three Ps—planning, prepping, and preparing to dazzle! 


First you need to get organized for this system to work. Make sure you have the needed organizational items ready to go. Here’s what you need.

  • Some time to plan and implement. You can think about things, but you need some implementation time to make them happen.
  • A cart will keep everything organized. I have some friends who purchased a stainless-steel mechanics cart from the hardware store. This thing has lots of shallow drawers that are perfect for small parts and pieces. You can go as high tech or low tech as your budget allows. Amazon has some great options. Just make sure this is sturdy enough to hold the endo motor, oven, and your apex locator on the top. This keeps all the expensive equipment together! Closed drawers versus open shelving helps keep your packages clear of overspray.
  • Get a box of zip lock sandwich bags.
  • Get two multisection closed-top plastic boxes such as those used for small pieces of jewelry. These can be found in craft departments or houseware sections.


This is where those zip lock bags come in, to make small packs of the disposable supplies you will need. Make up several bags with the following supplies.

  • Suction tips HVE and a small surgical suction
  • Saliva ejector
  • One cotton tip applicator for the topical and mixing cement
  • Two or three pieces of 2x2
  • Rubber dam material
  • A length of floss
  • One or two packs of assorted sizes of paper points
  • K-files #10 and #15. Keep these in the blister pack for sterility.
  • If using single doses of endo cement, one blister pack
  • If using a rotary file system, one unopened file each of the small and medium size
  • Using your first multisection plastic box, place different sizes of endo clamps. I prefer a 12A, 13A, and an anterior wing because you can do almost every tooth in the mouth with these three clamps. Make sure these are presterilized in tiny peel pouches so they will fit. Place these unopened in the appropriate sections.
  • In one of the top drawers or baskets of your cart, place the rubber dam forceps and rubber dam frames in their own peel pouches unopened. Place the rubber dam punches in this drawer too. If there is room in the drawer, keep your rubber dam clamp box there. Keep a cotton plyer for easy grabbing if you need extra supplies.

 Fill your second multisection plastic box with:

  • K-files #8, #10, #15, and #20
  • The rotary endo file system
  • These must all be unopened, especially the rotary files. It’s important to have them handy, but they are very expensive so open only when needed.
  • Place your second multisection box in a drawer of your cart.
  • Keep your rotary handpieces in this drawer.
  • This is a good place to keep your endo file holders and the corresponding sponges.
  • Keep a few endo explorers here if they’re not included in your instrument packs. 

Prepare to dazzle!

Once you have everything organized and ready to go, it should only be a matter of minutes to get your tray, instrument setup, and anesthesia syringe from the lab or instrument storage area. Grab your cart on your way by and slide it into the room on the doctor’s side, pull out your zip bag of disposables and rubber dam setup. and if your doctor thinks you will need to have additional rotary files, take those too. 

If you follow these three Ps, you will increase your efficiency with setups and never fear that call from hygiene again!

Sherrie Busby is a dental assistant and infection control training developer for Heartland Dental. She has been a dental assistant since way before it was cool, and she has a passion for teaching and mentoring others. She is a long-standing member of OSAP and enjoys keeping people safe with OSHA and infection control training. She is currently serving on several committees with the American Dental Assistants Association and sits on the board of the Illinois state chapter.