Many people do not know the difference between a dental assistant and a dental hygienist. Often times, we hear it’s the dental nurse or dental technician. While we spend a lot of time providing dental education, we rarely discuss our very different roles. Here are some things that Dental Assistants want you to know:
- Our Responsibility is to Assist the Doctor.
Given the title is a dental assistant, it may be clear that our job is to assist the doctor. Our primary function is to help the doctor with your care. Some of the things we do include reviewing your medical history, having the required tools and material the doctor needs readily available, sterilize instruments and help the doctor in any way that is needed.
- Your Tongue is the Strongest Muscle in Your Body.
You’ve probably heard this before, but it’s true! Your tongue is very strong. When we are trying to hold your tongue back with an instrument or a suction, please do not try to push with your tongue. Sometimes it just happens and those pesky tongues have a mind of their own, but don’t intentionally add to the tug of war.
- Follow Our Directions.
Our goal is to help you have the best dental experience possible. Please listen to us when we provide direction. It is only to keep your best interest in mind. Sometimes our directions feel counter intuitive. We say look right and you think to look left. It happens. Just do your best to follow directions. If you close your mouth when we say open, you could bite us!
- We are Artists!
As a dental assistant, we are asked to make temporary crowns usually from nothing at all. Therefore, we have to build a “shell” of a tooth that looks and functions like a tooth from a resin or acrylic material. All of those pretty little shapes and angles and selecting the right shade are all up our alley.
- Tell Us the Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth.
When you come in for a toothache or any kind of problem, we are usually the one that brings you into the dental room and we ask you about it. Someone many years ago must have started a rumor that you only tell the dental assistant a little bit and when the dentist comes in, you ask the dentist about three more areas too! We promise that when we ask you to tell us what is going on, it’s for your benefit. Our jobs as a dental assistant is to make sure we have everything ready for the doctor before he or she gets into the room. If you don’t tell us, then we don’t know and we are not prepared. The doctor thinks we aren’t doing our job and you have to wait even longer to get the answers that you want because we aren’t ready. Just tell us. We don’t judge!
- We are Clinically Trained.
Our positions as dental assistants are clinical in nature. We know about the surfaces of teeth, the layers of the tooth structure and all about dental films. We are not experts about your dental insurance, billing or payment questions. Some assistants are cross trained to know both the administrative and clinical aspects, but when you’re in a dental chair, we like to make sure we are helping from a clinical point of view. We don’t want to be thinking about your annual maximum while we are trying to keep your cheek out of the way of the doctor’s view.
- Training Requirements in Florida.
In the State of Florida (each state is different), a license is not required to be a dental assistant. However, before one can be a dental assistant, they have to have formal training with either a course or training program that is accredited by the American Dental Association’s Commission on Dental Accreditation or by the Board of Dentistry or through on the job training. With on the job training, Dental Radiography and Expanded Functions certification is required. Even when one has completed the formal training, being a dental assistant requires continuous learning and understanding what each doctor wants.
- We are Psychic!
Not really! But, part of our job is to know what the doctor will want before they know what they want. We have to be two steps ahead of the doctor to makesure they have the tools and materials they need before they ask for it. When a doctor is asking for something routinely, we can predict what they will ask for next. This helps to keep the doctor’s eyes focused on exactly what it needs to be on- your mouth!
- We Know but Can’t Tell.
After we take a dental radiograph or x-ray, the patient usually asks, “So, what do you see?” Well, we can tell you it is black, white and grey, but can’t tell you much past that because we are not doctors! Certainly, the longer period of time an assistant has been working, we are more likely to know what the doctor is going to say, but just to be on the safe side (and follow the law!) we can’t tell you.
- We Have Dental Problems Too!
Just because we work in a dental office does not mean that we are exempt from dental problems. And, we might just be the WORST patients too! We think about everything that could possibly happen and assume that will be the outcome for us. We know we work with great doctors and trust their every move, but when the drill is going in our mouths, we are anxious too.
- We are Kind Of Neat Freaks…
Our rooms are organized just the way we want them. We know exactly what goes where and do not like it when someone disrupts our room. No, silly- we aren’t talking about patients! We are talking about having someone else work out of our rooms. We are creatures of habit and when something is out of place, it makes our day crazy. We get into the office about 30 minutes before any patient comes in just to make sure everything is exactly where it needs to be so that I can focus on you rather than where my soap dispenser wandered off to.
- They are Called “Burs”, not Drill Bits.
We aren’t sure where the name “burs” came from, but rest assured, we never put “drill bits” onto the “drill” and expect that to go in anyone’s mouth! The skinny little piece that is designed to cut through tooth surface and decay is called a Bur. The piece that the doctor holds where this little piece goes into is called a Handpiece. Talk about Little Shop of Horrors! We really don’t like to scare people. It’s just not in our nature.
- Wait Until We Have Gloves on.
Chipped or broken teeth, crowns that came off and appliances that are broken are part of our daily routine, but please wait until we are in a private area where I can put on gloves before handing me something you’ve pulled out of your mouth or worse yet- swallowed, waited for it to pass and found it and cleaned it. We really do want to help you, but just wait until we get into a room that has privacy and we will have a look there.
- We Do This Because We Care.
Many of us got into dentistry because of a dental experience that we had at a younger age. Either we were at the dentist and thought the tools looked reallycool or just the fascination of teeth in general. (Yes, some of us just love teeth.) We learned quickly that we can make the difference between someone being scared of the dentist or being calm. We are there to hold your hand, to talk to you and comfort you, to help you overcome your dental fears and anxiety and most of all- to ensure you achieve your dental needs.
- There are A Lot of Us!
In the US alone, there are more than 300,000 dental assistants. We join in chat groups, go to continuing education and help each other with all kinds of tips and tricks. If anyone is a gagger, there are many different tricks that we try all the time! You never know what will work! We share a lot. When we need the resources of other dental assistants, we reach out and ask for opinions and advice. We love to help each other, which helps the patients!
It’s a job that not everyone is cut out for, but for those of us that have a special passion for dentistry, we are called Dental Assistants! Let us know what we can do to help you during your dental experience. We really aren’t psychic and if you need something- just tell us! We will do our best to help you.
To see our smiling faces, check out our team page here.