© Artur Szczybylo | Dreamstime.com
Call To Action 5ec6e5143e026

Myth busters for dental assistants: Dental assistants are not oral health-care professionals and our opinions do not matter

May 21, 2020
Wrong! Tija Hunter, CDA, EFDA, believes dental assistants should all receive mandatory training for infection control. She feels this would help them gain some of the respect that traditionally lacks toward the profession.

What do you mean we aren't professionals and our opinions do not matter? This is not just wrong, but whoa, this could not be further from the truth!

Have you ever been made to feel like the black sheep of your dental office? In many states dental assistants are not licensed or permitted or have a certificate, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t true professionals who work our butts off every day. We help grow our practices and take care of our patients, teams, and doctors!

We dental assistants make up a large part of the dental community. There are around 330,000 of us compared to 200,000 dentists and 150,000 dental hygienists. We are hard workers, sometimes with little pay and very little respect. Can a doctor work without a dental hygienist? Absolutely. Is that a smart thing to do? No!

But can a doctor work without a dental assistant? No! We do so much behind the scenes that most people, including our own employers, don’t even realize we do. Don’t believe me? Try going into the office on a Monday morning after the doctor has been in to see an emergency patient over the weekend. The cabinets are open, dirty instruments lay around, and it’s a complete mess in the operatory. This demonstrates that we are a valuable part of the dental team, and we deserve the same respect that other oral health-care professionals receive.

I bring all of this up because during the pandemic, dental assistants have been forgotten when it comes to serving the dental community as thought leaders, influencers, and policy creators. We do not serve on many state dental boards, our services and knowledge are not recognized, and we aren’t seen as professionals capable of critical decision making.

We are responsible for the majority of infection control in dental practices. It is the most important part of our day and our knowledge and ability to multitask are critical when it comes to the day-in and day-out protocols that our offices follow. Therefore, with all of my heart, I believe we need national certification for all dental assistants in the area of infection control.

Some states require an infection control permit, license, or certification, but not all states. Also, training and requirements differ greatly from one state to the next and protocols differ in every office. This should not be the case. The most important part of what assistants do—protect our patients and our team—should be of great concern to practice owners, the public, and ourselves! There should be mandatory infection control across the board for every dental assistant before hiring, bar none.

I propose a call to action! I propose that we develop, implement, and follow through with mandatory national infection control training certification for all dental assistants, one that carries through from state to state. In these unprecedented times, this should be nonnegotiable. The need is there because the safety of our patients and team is not up for debate. The time to act is now!

Dental assistants are professionals who work hard, and we want to be trained to be the best that we can be. We want and deserve respect. If dentists want what’s best for their patients, they need to have the best people working for them. These people need to be properly trained so they can help the practice grow. A strong, highly trained assistant is worth professional wages.

Dental assistants; remember that you are professional oral health-care workers! You need to demand training, respect, and a professional wage. However, you must do something too. You need to step up to the plate and be the best you can be, not just for your practice but for yourself, and you need to invest in yourself to accomplish this. You must take time to understand the laws for your state, OSHA, and the CDC. Then follow the letter of the law. Don’t cut corners or slack off because if you want to be treated like a professional, you need to act like a professional.

You have a choice to make. Decide if you are a true professional, and then make it happen. You can do it!

About the Author

Tija Hunter, CDA, EFDA

Tija Hunter, CDA, CDIA, CDIPC, CDSH, CDSO, EFDA, MADAA, is a member and former vice president of the American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA), where she holds the honor of Master. 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. She can be reached at [email protected].

Updated January 12, 2024