In the fight against ailments like bad breath and gingivitis, everyone's greatest ally is their dentist. But when it comes to who you'll see at your biannual visit, most people spend far more time with the dental assistant. These are the highly trained specialists who take X-rays, prep your mouth for cleaning and other procedures, and offer insight and education into a healthier, brighter smile. It's no wonder, then, that the demand for dental assistants is set to grow 18 percent by 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But not everyone can go from sitting in the dentist's chair to being a full-fledged assistant, and it takes certain qualities to be truly successful in the quickly-growing field. Here are four characteristics shared by all dental assistants:
"Dental assistants help with both administrative and clinical tasks."
Being a dental assistant means playing a role in almost every part of a dentist's office. That includes not only helping to treat patients, but also in many administrative functions - like answering patient questions and creating medical records - and assisting with office inventory. If the assistant is disorganized and has trouble keeping track of materials and pertinent tasks alike, then they can't properly serve doctors or patients. Oftentimes the dentist relies on the assistant to be on top of everything to mitigate their own workload and address patients' needs.
On some days, the dental assistant may have only to assist in a few minor cleanings. However, there will be plenty of times when a patient comes in for a more intense procedure, one that promises some level of blood and discomfort. When those occur, the assistant has two main tasks. The first is comforting the patient, be it with a pat on the arm or encouraging words, anything to help the time pass. But on the flip side, assistants can't be too soft and must have the ability to stomach the blood and continue on for the good of the patient's oral health. These might seem contrasting, but this balance is vital for a dental assistant to prosper.
Because dental assistants have to wear so many hats, they need to excel at interpersonal interactions. First and foremost, that means being an expert in communication. An effective dental assistant has to know how to talk to the doctor, focusing on the medicine and clinical functions, and then turn right around and engage patients. Part of working with patients is having a great sense of humor, which alleviates a potentially stressful visit to the dentist. Lastly, a commitment to teamwork is vital; no office can function properly if everyone doesn't continually collaborate.
Don't let "assistant" fool you; doctors and administrators rely heavily on these specialists. Because both parties require so much from the assistant, these individuals have to have a certain level of foresight. Doctors will always communicate, but they also expect their assistant to anticipate needs to better treat the patient. The same goes for administrative staff; dental assistants need to think ahead in case there are issues with patients that need to be addressed behind the scenes. Great attention to details will be a huge help, giving the assistant the kind of perspective needed to look at both what's in front of them and what's on the horizon.