A story of love, courage, and how dental assistants can make a big difference

To say this registered dental assistant's first visit to the dentist was not pleasant is an understatement. But it was not enough to deter her from visiting another dentist later because of the kindness of the staff at the first office. Today she's proud to be an RDA.

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To say this registered dental assistant's first visit to the dentist was not pleasant is an understatement. But it was not enough to deter her from visiting another dentist later because of the kindness of the staff at the first office. Today she's proud to be an RDA.

This article originally appeared in Dental Assisting & Office Manager Digest. Subscribe to the monthly e-newsletter here.

I FIRST VISITED A DENTAL OFFICE WHEN I WAS SEVEN YEARS OLD. My sister, mom, and I badly needed dental treatment, and we were excited to find a dentist in the town next to ours who took the state-funded insurance. We had very little money, and my mom desperately wanted her front teeth capped, and my sister and I were experiencing a lot of tooth pain.

We were prepared for the shot my mom told us we would need, and my sister and I decided we would be brave because our teeth were killing us, which is not good when you’re trying to concentrate in school. I was also having some trouble with my eyes, but my mom chose our teeth as the priority.

We arrived at our appointment, and to my surprise the dental office was a former house converted into the dental office. I thought it was cute and cozy. We walked in and the family room was the waiting room. The hygienist opened the frosted window and said hello with a great big smile and gave my mom the necessary paperwork. I settled in with my favorite magazine—Highlights. But I didn’t like the funny smell.

The hygienist took us each to our own operatories and told us if we were good we’d get a toy from the toy chest, which looked like a real treasure chest! She sat us in our comfortable chairs and put the patient bibs on us. She then took pictures of our teeth and introduced us to the dentist, who seemed nice and clean cut, but not very warm and fuzzy. But I knew I had to be a good patient because my mom had had a hard time finding a dentist who would take us.

After the dentist told us what would happen during our appointments, mom got her crown preps started and my sister and I got our first teeth cleanings. The dentist held off on the fluoride and decided we needed our cavities filled. So now the big moment . . . our shots. (Remember this is a story about love and courage. Or, is it more about the good, the bad, and the ugly?)

STAY WITH ME AND I'LL WALK YOU THROUGH SO YOU CAN SEE WHAT WAS MISSING from this dental appointemtnt. My shot was okay but the taste was terrible, so I was glad to have a cup of water and a bowl to spit in. I was relieved that the hygienist was by my side when the dentist put my tooth to sleep because she made me feel safe. But I was not happy when she left the room and never came back. What followed is something I’ll never forget. The dentist turned out not to be so nice, and he touched me inappropriately. I found out later he also touched my sister and mom inappropriately. I remember how glad I was to get out of that chair and pick my prize. My mom could not get us out of there fast enough, and we never went back for her crowns. She had uncapped teeth for more than 20 years.

Why am I sharing this story of my first dental visit gone terribly bad? Because regardless of that visit and what happened, it never made me not want to visit another dentist. Ultimately the pain in my teeth went away, and I knew how nice the hygienist had been. But I do wonder what made the dentist do what he did to us. Was it because we were poor and there was not enough staff to keep everyone accountable? Maybe. But the only way we could fight it at the time was to not return to that office.

The big picture here is that you, as a dental assistant, matter to your patients in so many ways. Remember that the hygienist at my first visit was a source of comfort. She smiled her big smile and said hello to us and was by my side when I got my first shot. As an assistant, you can be that lifeline for your patients. Hopefully you will never have to report any kind of abuse, especially from your dentist. But if it’s necessary I know that you, like me, would not hesitate to do so. Our patients are our number one priority.

It’s important to love your job, vocation, and your patients. Have the courage to be the lifeline for patients who depend on you for more than you know. Had the hygienist stayed in the operatories with us the whole time, we would never have experienced what we did.

My story has a happy ending. My next dentist was Dr. Lou (who accepted our insurance), and his friendly tooth fairy. Kids got to meet Dr. Lou dressed as a cowboy, and his helper was dressed as the tooth fairy. It was a wonderful office for kids. When I left I received a toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, a sticker, and a report for my mom about my visit.

I’ve had nothing but good experiences at dental offices ever since, and I could not be prouder to be a part of this wonderful profession. Be proud, and remember what an important role you play in your patients’ eyes.

Cindy Lopian, RDA, graduated from Brea Olinda High School with a scholarship toward her dental assisting education. She currently holds certificates in coronal polishing and x-rays. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, Greg.


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