In honor of Dental Assistants Recognition Week March 6-12, DentistryIQ reached out to a local (Tulsa, Oklahoma) registered dental assistant to chat about her career in dental assisting, why she’s stayed with it so long, and why she would recommend it to others.
To say Lori Morgan is in dental assisting nirvana is an understatement. Great dentists who appreciate their staff? Check. Cohesive team members? Check. Fun on the job and career enjoyment? Check, and check.
Lori has been a part of Wyatt & Flint Orthodontics in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for 37 years. (Well, technically she started working for another dentist in 1979. Drs. Wayne Wyatt and Michael Flint bought the practice in 2003.) She applied straight out of Vo-Tech school, landed the job, and has enjoyed it so much she’s never left. She is part of the team of four dental assistants, one office manager, and two dentists.
Why dental assisting?
“When I was in fourth grade I broke a tooth,” Lori explained. “Instead of it being a bad or scary experience at the dentist, it was just fine thanks to the dental assistant. She was so kind and patient with me. I decided right then that that’s what I wanted to do.”
Never straying from that path, Lori attended a dental assisting program her senior year in high school. Upon graduation she was referred to three dental practices—two perio offices and an orthodontist. “I knew I couldn’t work around bloody mouths all day, so I applied at the orthodontist’s office.”
Thirty-seven years later she still enjoys greeting the practice’s primarily young patients each day, and watching their smiles and personalities evolve throughout the process. “It’s important to get to know the kids,” she said. “We talk to them about their interests to learn about them and make them feel welcome, and this gives us something to talk about each visit.”
She and her fellow team members like to interact with the pre-teens and teenagers, especially those who start out shy in their first few visits. “It’s part of our job to make them feel as comfortable as possible. When they begin to relax, it’s fun to choose their new colors each visit, see how their teeth are improving, and watch their confidence increase. What’s really a kick is when they ask to see how they used to look, and we can show them pictures of their mouth before they got their braces.”
Some bonuses for remaining on the job 30-plus years? “Seeing the kids we treated send their kids to us! I’m helping to fit a second generation for their braces.” Lori has also watched the office transition from charts to paperless, from film to intraoral x-rays, and in her area of dentistry, from wire and bands to brackets. She’s also seen an uptick in the number of adults choosing to have braces.
What the dentist has to say
Dr. Wayne Wyatt realizes the importance of the dental assistants in his and Dr. Flint’s practice.
“We wouldn't be able to deliver the highest level of patient care and attention without our assistants, who spend extra time with patients going over tips, techniques, and advice on how to care for their teeth and braces,” he said. “Our assistants also help the doctors work efficiently, which improves the overall patient experience. Our amazing team of assistants enable us to see more patients, keep their appointments shorter, and keep them more at ease and comfortable during their appointments.”
He said the philosophy of Wyatt & Flint Orthodontics is to hire for the person, not the skill set. “Our staff are genuinely friendly people who do what's best for the practice and the patients. Our team is selfless, honest, loyal, and dependable.”
It helps that the doctors are “laid back.” “We try to keep the atmosphere from becoming too stressful and tense, even during chaotic times,” Dr. Wyatt said. “We've been very fortunate that turnover is almost non-existent on our team, which further leads to a cohesive, well-oiled machine.”
As for Lori? “She’s the best team member a doctor could ask for. She knows every position in the office from the back to the front. She is very friendly and patients always rave about how nice she is. I can count on one hand the number of days she's had to unexpectedly call in sick. She often tells me she wants to stay here as long as I will let her stay, and I tell her the same thing right back! That's the kind of responsibility she feels toward the practice, patients, and team. Every office needs a ‘Lori,’ but too bad! She's ours, and she's a tremendous blessing to our team!”
Words of advice from a pro
If you’re thinking about going into dental assisting, you need to be a people person, Lori advises. “If you love variety, working with people, never a dull moment, and being challenged, then I would say you’re a good candidate for dental assisting.”
She admits to being personally challenged when it comes to technology and computers (she doesn’t have personal email and still prefers her flip phone). But her coworkers worked with her until she got the hang of entering notes in charts on the computer and taking digital x-rays. Now the “new” routines are second nature to the team, and Lori can’t imagine ever going back, especially to developing film in a darkroom.
With four assistants, you can bet Wyatt & Flint Orthodontics is celebrating Dental Assistants Recognition Week. “We’ll be giving them gift cards and a big cake,” Dr. Wyatt said. “We are very thankful for our outstanding team.”
This article first appeared in Dental Assisting & Office Manager Digest. To receive enlightening and helpful articles for assistants and office managers in this monthly e-newsletter, visit dentistryiq.com/subscribe.