By Dr. Ben Burris
Smiling, positive dental assistants with great attitudes are essential for a successful office. Be it a general or specialty practice, the atmosphere created by the team members’ attitudes, interaction, and care of the patients is crucial. If the proper atmosphere and attitudes are in place, then all else is possible and easy.
I’m sure you noticed I did not mention well trained as one of the most important aspects of a dental assistant. Training, skill, and experience are important, but there are two reasons they are not nearly as important as the attributes I consider primary:
- They can be learned by practically anyone given enough time,
- There are many, many skilled and experienced technicians with all the credentials who have no clue what it means to be a dental assistant.
I believe the word “dental” in “dental assistant” is overemphasized, and the word “assistant” is undervalued. When most people think of assistant, they think of what is done by that person for the doctor during a procedure. Again, this is important, but I do not feel it should be the primary focus of a dental assistant. I think of an assistant as assisting the patient through the entire process, and there are many facets of this that will be discussed.
Patient liaison: This is the most important role of an assistant. Communication between dentist and patient is always challenging. The doctor speaks too quickly, uses words that patients don’t understand, or patients are intimidated by the doctor and decide they cannot understand what’s being said. This is where the patient liaison comes in. Dental assistants are in the unique position to translate what the doctor is going to do into language patients can understand, making the entire process much less stressful for all involved. What can be more important than helping patients rid their bodies of disease in a low stress and friendly environment? The doctor cannot accomplish this without a true assistant, and the patient has no prayer of a pleasant experience without the assistant’s help.
Doctor’s advocate: Once you are lucky enough to land in a great practice with an awesome doctor, the best thing you can do is tell everyone how much you love your job and working with professional, ethical, and caring doctors. Singing the praises of your office should not be limited to work time. Talk about what you do all over town and let everyone know you love your career and office. Patients know very little about dentistry, and once you find a place and are happy with your circumstances, it means the world to patients and potential patients to hear why they should come to your office and see your doctor. This creates patient flow from word of mouth referrals that sustain and grow the business and ensures you will keep the job you love, and helps patients find a dentist who will take excellent care of them. By the way, if you don’t feel this way about your practice, something needs to change!
Team member: Dental assistants are part of a larger team of staff members who must work together daily. Depending on the office, this environment can be supportive and fun (assisting one another) or it can be mean, hateful, and dreary. As a dental assistant, it is important that you do your part and more to make sure the environment of your office is positive and supportive for the dental team and doctor. We all have to work, so why not do our best to make it a pleasant and fun thing to do. Remember, if someone else has done it, it’s probably possible!
Being a dental assistant is a wonderful career in which you can take care of people, enjoy your work, and provide for your family. Of course you need to keep up on your technical skills, but don’t forget to polish your interpersonal abilities, and don’t lose sight of the value you can bring to the dental office beyond the “dental” aspects.
Dr. Ben Burris is a 2004 graduate of UT Memphis department of orthodontics, a 2001 graduate of UT Memphis College of Dentistry, a 2008 Founded Smile for a Lifetime member of the Schulman Study Group, and an AAOF Fellow. Ben practices in northeast and central Arkansas, and he’s lived in Jonesboro, Ark., since 2004.