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If you’re trying to decide whether it’s “worth it” to become a dental assistant, it’s important to know that dental assistants are one of the key players in every dental office. In fact, rarely will you ever find a dental team that doesn’t have at least one, if not more, dental assistant. 

As part of the patient care team, a registered dental assistant plays several crucial roles, including:

Setting the Tone for Patient Care

Did you know that approximately 1-in-3 dental patients have some type of anxiety or phobia related to the dental practice? As an assistant, you get to help break the cycle. This means your patients can feel more relaxed and then feel comfortable sitting through the treatment that they need. 

Whether gently taking x-rays when they don’t like someone touching their mouth or helping them feel more comfortable before the dentist applies numbing medication, the “soft skills” of a clinical assistant are just as essential as their technical responsibilities.

When you help patients feel at ease, you set the tone in the practice and keep them coming back. Whether it’s establishing a professional relationship with them each time they come into the practice or giving them something to talk about (and take their mind off of things) instead of focusing on what’s about to happen, your friendliness and care are essential for a positive dental experience.

Patient Education on Methods, Procedures

Patient education is one of the skills you’ll learn in your dental assistant program. That means explaining procedures before they happen, giving the patient an idea of what to expect, and going through home care routines to follow once they leave. You’ll find that patient education broadens your knowledge of dental health and the systemic connection behind it.

Since you’ll be working one-on-one with dentists, you’ll also get to learn about newly developed techniques and care practices, educating patients along the way. This step also helps improve patient case plan acceptance rates, as many people feel they can turn to the dental assistants to answer their concerns and questions once the dentist steps away. 

Your job will be to inform and educate patients so they can make knowledgeable choices related to their care plan.

Assisting the Dentist in Direct Patient Care

Every dental office needs an assistant to help the dentist perform patient care. It’s often referred to as “four-handed dentistry” because of the two people (the assistant and the doctor) caring for the patient together. 

You’ll need to have the exact instruments ready at the precise time, from setting up the room and getting prepared before the patient arrives to staying one step ahead of the dentist for each specific procedure. You’ll find that you know what the dentist needs before they even ask for it, which improves patient care and the efficiency of procedures in the office.

Because of your hands-on approach, you’ll also be given an opportunity for expanded services like taking impressions or even prepping temporary crowns. The more assistants do, the more invaluable they become and the wider number of responsibilities they’re given.

As you gain more experience over the years, you’ll feel confident talking to others about their care, educating friends about their oral health, and even being able to volunteer in school programs to help with oral disease management in your community.

Infection Control

All dental assistants receive training in areas related to OSHA and infection control. Biohazardous agents like blood, teeth, saliva and radiation pose a risk to everyone who walks into a dental practice. 

Being trained in infection control management helps prevent the spread of disease through cross-contamination or aerosol production, given the nature of the office. Assistants help establish sterilization protocols to ensure consistency throughout the office, from back operatories to the front desk. 

Sterilizing instruments, recapping needles, disinfecting work surfaces, and practicing proper PPE donning/removal are just a couple of examples of what your job will entail.

Inventory Management

In some dental practice locations, there is a lead dental assistant who takes on the active role of inventory management. This includes ordering supplies, monitoring the use of materials and products among staff, and ensuring that each of the treatment rooms has the resources it needs to provide patient care. Sometimes this role goes to an assistant, but it might also be an office manager or a dental hygienist on the team. It’s an important role that requires extremely important attention to detail.

Opportunity for Growth

Dental assistants always have the opportunity for cross-training and taking continuing education courses. The career path is one that opens up to a wide variety of job roles, such as DANB certification, becoming a dental hygienist, teaching at a dental assisting program, working in community health, or becoming an office manager. Some even go into marketing or professional development, depending on their career interests and experience in their years as an assistant.

On the other hand, many dental assistants make a long-term career of working with the same dentist for several years (or decades) at a time. The flexibility of the industry allows you to pursue your personal goals, whatever they may be. And all without the cost of a college loan or years in school. A great dental assistant career offers full-time employment and added perks like uniform allowances, professional development, and vacation time without the commitment of a four-year college degree.

The Rewarding Career Path of Dental Assistants 

As an assistant, you’ll find that you learn new skills over time. Dentistry is an ever-evolving field that requires constant learning throughout your career. If you’re curious about what’s involved or already love visiting the dentist, this could be an exceptional career choice.

Being a dental assistant is more than just teeth. It’s a rewarding career that allows you to make a difference in the lives of others with the many benefits of an in-demand, full-time career.

Contact Pacific Northwest Dental Assisting School today to find out how you can become a dental assistant with our 12-week course!