The purpose, job description, and duties of dental assistants
Dental assistants have a lot of responsibilities in the practice. Sometimes it's hard to even think of them all. Kevin Tighe has created a very-close-to-complete list of duties for DAs.
Editor’s Note: So often, students interested in going into dental assisting don’t have a true feel for what the job really means or what their day-to-day duties might look like. With that in mind, we thought this article might be good for those who want to get into dental assisting, as well as those who haven’t been in the profession for very long.
If you’re an established dental assistant, what tips, duties, or advice would you add to this article? Feel free to let me know at email@example.com. We always love to hear from our DAD readers!
The purpose of a dental assistant is to help the dentist in every way possible, which enables the dentist to provide efficient, high-quality care to patients.
The first responsibility of an assistant is to become properly trained and apprenticed so he or she can perform all of the required tasks at maximum speed and efficiency. Top dental assistants also strive to maintain excellent patient relations, ensuring patients are well cared for, happy, and satisfied.
Dental assistant job description and duties
The duties of a chairside assistant are not simply assisting and cleaning instruments. When there are no patients, a DA’s time should be spent cleaning the treatment rooms, tubs, and trays, stocking treatment rooms, stocking burs, organizing stock closets, and more. (See Daily Checklist below). The treatment rooms should be immaculate at all times. This cannot be emphasized enough.
When preparing the room, place materials and equipment in the sequence the doctor will use the items. Then, if the doctor or anything else interrupts you, you will remain several steps ahead of the doctor.
When a patient arrives early, seat the person immediately and inform the doctor of the patient’s name and room number. Inform the patient of the estimated length of the appointment, and of the estimated wait time for the doctor. Review and update the patient’s health history. Review the treatment planned, outstanding treatment still to be completed, and ask the patient if he or she has any concerns or questions regarding today’s appointment.
When patients ask about treatments, you can say, “I’m not a dentist, and only a dentist can diagnose, but if you were my family member, I would encourage you to change the filling to a crown. This is only my impression and the doctor will be in shortly to review, diagnose, and determine a treatment plan that’s best for you.”
When speaking with patients, always promote the office, the doctor, and the dental hygienist. When appropriate, tell the patient that the office uses the best dental lab and finest materials, including high-quality impression materials, cement, and equipment. Keep comments positive, and lead conversations to allow patients to talk about themselves. Do not talk about personal problems or situations at work.
When the doctor asks you to do something or says anything to you during the appointment, always acknowledge the dentist with an audible OK, or ask the doctor to clarify the statement if needed.
When assisting the doctor, comfort and soothe the patient if necessary. Some patients want you to hold their hand, or they just need to hear some comforting words. When alone, explain to patients what you’re doing in order to minimize their fear of the unknown.
Anticipate the doctor’s needs. If the doctor must ask for instruments repeatedly, then you are not anticipating. If the doctor is instructing the patient to open, then repeat to the patient, “Mrs. Jones, please open.”
During a procedure, follow the doctor with the light. When the doctor asks a patient to move, it is your clue to move the light. Both hands should be used at all times (i.e., double retraction or A/W syringe plus single retraction, etc.). Always keep a 2x2 of alcohol gauze nearby to be able to clean the mouth mirror.
Keep the bracket tray and countertop neat and free of debris. All instruments must be placed in an orderly fashion. Be sure this is kept up without sacrificing the doctor’s needs. Always keep ahead of the doctor to ensure the patient of your competence.
When dismissing a patient, accompany the person to the front of the office and direct the person to the account manager for payment services. Always ensure that the information has been carried (i.e., route slip or completed services rendered form) to the office coordinator prior to bringing up the patient. The front desk staff should be ready for the patient so they can give the person their undivided attention.
When a patient is dismissed, he or she must feel the team did everything possible to make him or her comfortable. A practice cannot be just average in this area. Assistants are an integral part of this function since you spend a lot of time with each patient. Ensure all postoperative instructions have been reviewed with the patient and be sure to ask if they have any questions.
When not assisting the doctor directly, be prepared for the next patient. Set up the operatory for the next procedure. Ensure that all staff members are caught up in their operatories or if they’re in need of assistance. Keep up with sterilization at all times when you are not with the patient or the doctor.
The patient is everyone’s number one priority! The team must complete treatment as soon as possible to minimize a patient’s time in the chair. If you notice an appointment is running late or will finish early, inform the patient so that the person can make arrangements if needed.
The assistant should know the patient’s total treatment, and any questions should be reviewed with the doctor. If the office is not chartless, the assistant can help with the organization of the paper charts for a future chartless practice. Purge documents more than seven years old, or scan documents into patient charts in the dental software and shred the documents once they’re scanned.
When the doctor enters the room, start in this order:
• Post all x-rays, full-mouth series, panoramics, and bitewings on computerized dental radiography, taking any images or x-rays needed for the appointment
• Ensure the appropriate instrumentation is ready for a procedure (i.e., restorative trays). Open instrument cassette and sterilized pouches in front of the patient. Place blades in the proper loactions articulating paper in the proper holders. Place handpieces on attachments.
• Review the patient’s health history, noting any changes. Take blood pressure.
• Place dental napkin (bib) around neck. Position chair.
• Take custom shade, opposing impression, and digital photos.
• Hand out topical 2x2 gauze pad.
• Hand syringe with warm anesthetic.
• Have additional carpules ready to hand to doctor if needed.
• Divert the attention of the patient away from the procedure with interesting conversation.
• Ask the patient if he or she is OK or would like a bottle of water.
• Provide tissue prior to all treatment so the patient does not drool on himself or herself.
• Offer every patient headphones for the TV or music. Encourage and explain the need for headphones.
• Place protective glasses on all patients. This keeps the bright light and splatters out of their eyes.
• Use the intraoral camera to demonstrate any abnormality in the mouth. Give possible scenarios if it’s not treated in a timely manner.
• Review the use of floss threaders, electric toothbrushes, and water piks as needed.
• Reinforce the necessity of regular cleanings and encourage more frequent recalls. If home care is good, praise the patient.
• Review home care as needed, especially how to clean under a bridge, implant, or orthodontics.
• Ask patients if they’re satisfied with the color or shape of their teeth. Where indicated, encourage whitening, and show them an album of before and after photos.
• When the doctor calls you, you must stop what you are doing and check with him or her unless you are seating a patient, trying in a crown, or making a temp.
• When dismissing the patient, ask how the person is feeling. Reinforce preventive homeopathic medicines for the next couple days to minimize postoperative sensitivity or pain.
I recommend rereading this article many times per month. It will help you excel in your job. Now, enjoy and be proud of your dental assisting position!
Kevin Tighe, Cambridge Dental Consultants CEO, got bitten hard by the business and marketing bug during long summer days working at his dad's Madison Avenue ad agency. After joining Cambridge as a seminarist in the mid-1990s, Kevin went on to become Cambridge’s senior consultant and eventually CEO. Cambridge Dental Consultants is a full-service dental practice management company offering customized dental office manuals. Frustrated? High overhead? Schedule a chat with Kevin at firstname.lastname@example.org.