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Ask an assistant: Are assistants allowed to vitality test?

March 19, 2021
Have a concern? Send it to "Ask an assistant." This DA is being asked to do something in the office that she's not sure she can do legally.

This column, "Ask an assistant," is open to any assistants who have concerns. They can reach out to a fellow assistant for advice with their dilemma. How many of you can identify with this assistant's question? Send your questions to [email protected], and it will be forwarded to an assistant to answer.

QUESTION: I'm a registered dental assistant, and a new endodontist is starting soon in our office. The new doctor was telling the assistants that he wants us to do the vitality testing of the teeth—cold testing and perception testing to determine which tooth needs a root canal—along with any x-rays that need to be taken. Are dental assistants legally allowed to do vitality testing? That would leave us to diagnose the tooth, right? Thank you!

ANSWER FROM TIJA HUNTER: Thank you for reaching out. It shows you’re concerned and want to do the right thing. Never overstep your boundaries because that can get you into a lot of trouble!

Different states have completely different rules and regulations regarding what dental assistants can and can't do. It's crazy to me that we can't come together nationwide so that the laws are clear across all states, but that's another story.

My answer is: it depends on what state you’re in. Some may allow this with no training, some may allow it with expanded functions training, and some may not allow it at all. 

One of the best ways to find out is to visit danb.org. There is a "search by state" tab on the left-hand side of the page. Find your state and you will be able to read your state’s rules. If you scroll further down, you will find "allowable" functions.

Of course, the best place to find your answer is through your state’s Dental Practice Act, which can be found on your state dental board’s web page. It can also be found on the DANB website. If all else fails, call your state dental board and they will be able to help you. 

We welcome any question or concern. The important thing to remember is that you're not alone. Send it to [email protected]. To read past columns, visit dentistryiq.com and search for "ask a dental assistant" or “ask an assistant.”