Show what you know: Tips for dental assistants to demonstrate their knowledge and commitment to patient protection

Over the last few weeks, there has been an onslaught of headlines about the oral surgeon in Oklahoma who was charged with numerous infection control violations and delegating prohibited duties to his dental assistants. The Dental Assisting National Board says now is a good time to revisit your patient interactions and take extra measures to reassure patients of your knowledge and professionalism.

Over the last few weeks, there has been an onslaught of headlines about the oral surgeon in Oklahoma who was charged with numerous infection control violations and delegating prohibited duties to his dental assistants. There is no question that shocking stories like these give us all pause, as we reflect on patients and their families, as well as the potential long-term ramifications.

We believe that news like this makes headlines because it is a rarity — most dentists and dental offices adhere to national infection control standards and state regulations. However, with heightened public attention to these issues, now is a good time to revisit your patient interactions and take extra measures to reassure patients of your knowledge and professionalism.

Put it on display.

One of the most effective nonverbal ways to convey your commitment to patient care is to put your achievements on display — literally. If you have a certificate of knowledge-based competency from passing DANB’s Infection Control (ICE) or Radiation Health and Safety (RHS) exams, we hope that your dental office policy allows you to display these certificates in the dental office. And if you are DANB certified, hang your framed DANB CDA, COA, CPFDA, CRFDA, COMSA, or CDPMA certificate(s) on the wall, wear your certification pin proudly and list your credentials after your name. These signs demonstrate to patients that you have proven knowledge in the key duties dental assistants perform every day. If you or your employer would like to verify your DANB certification or certificate of knowledge-based competency status, visit the Credential Verification section of DANB’s website.

There are other ways you can showcase your knowledge and skills. If you have earned a state certificate or completed a dental assisting program, these framed certificates will also let patients know that you have completed the necessary education and training to perform your duties. To find out what you are allowed to do in your state and the associated requirements, visit the Meet State Requirements section of DANB’s website.

Maintain visible standards.

Another great item to keep visible in the office is DANB’s Code of Professional Conduct. Anyone who has applied for, taken or passed a DANB exam must adhere to this code — which outlines several tenets of professional conduct, such as truth and responsibility. Displaying the code is a reminder to staff about the importance of upholding ethical standards; it also sends the message to patients that the office takes professional conduct seriously.

Some states require dental assistants to complete a jurisprudence course and pass an exam. If this is the case in your state, posting your certificate from the exam or course in clear view is also a good idea. This demonstrates to everyone who walks into the dental office that your team is up-to-date on the latest state regulations.

It is also good practice to have infection control and safety manuals stored in visible, easy-access locations. This not only makes it easier for the dental team to refer to these manuals when necessary — it also shows patients that your team knows and implements these procedures consistently. These manuals can also be a handy reference point if a patient asks questions about your office’s infection control standards. If you’re looking to add to the office resources, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have many guides available for download on their website. In addition, you can obtain From Policy to Practice: OSAP’s Guide to the CDC Guidelines by going to the Organization for Safety, Asepsis and Prevention (OSAP) website, www.osap.org. This manual provides guidance in how the CDC Guidelines for Infection Control in Dental Health-Care Settings-2003 should be applied in the dental office.

Take the next step.

Providing quality patient care requires an ongoing commitment to training and education. If you’re looking to take the next step, consider aiming for one of these goals:

  • Sign up for the DALE Foundation’s DANB ICE Review course to review important infection control topics and prepare for DANB exams; or, if you are simply interested in earning CDE credit, completing this interactive, self-paced online course awards you with 12 CDE credits from the DALE Foundation, an ADA-CERP Recognized CDE Provider
  • Quiz yourself with the DALE Foundation’s DANB ICE Practice Test
  • Take DANB's ICE exam, which measures your knowledge of OSHA standards and CDC guidelines
  • Take a hands-on course through your local college, dental assisting program or state dental meeting, or consider a free online course such as OSAP’s Interactive Guide to the CDC Guidelines, which is also available in Spanish
  • Join a professional group, such as the American Dental Assistants Association or OSAP, that can connect you with additional professional resources

As you know, dental assistants fill a critical role in a dental office’s infection control and occupational safety procedures — and sometimes serve as the closest set of eyes and ears to an office’s day-to-day operations. At DANB, public protection is at the heart of what we do. As a dental assistant, it should be at your core, too.

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