4 common questions dental assistants get asked by patients

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In a dental office, patients may interact with dental assistants more than any other staff member. Dental assistants often greet patients upon arrival, comfort them throughout the appointment, provide post-op instructions, and say goodbye when the visit ends.

Naturally, when you spend that much time with patients, you might field a variety of questions from them. While many are specific to their individual oral health or a procedure, some questions tend to pop up more than others. Here are some common ones dental assistants hear.

“Will you be cleaning my teeth?”

Not everyone fully understands what a dental assistant does. Patients can sometimes confuse the role of a dental assistant for a hygienist and wonder if they’ll be performing a dental hygiene appointment, as the positions might sound similar to someone who isn’t familiar with the world of dentistry. You may have to explain how your role differs from a hygienist’s and be happy to do so, though some dental assistants can find it frustrating at times.

“In general, the public thinks that an assistant and hygienist are the same and do not know the difference or understand the roles of each in a dental office,” says JoAnn. “This surprises me, and I think we need more education on the importance of a dental assistant.”

“Why do I need this treatment?”

Dental assistants can play a pivotal role in helping patients understand and accept the treatment plan. Patients look to dental assistants for comfort and guidance during appointments. That often means you explain procedures as well as answer any questions that come up to help put patients at ease. Dental assistants are particularly skilled at explaining procedures in easy-to-understand terms without the clinical terminology that can confuse patients.

Katrinda remembers a time when these skills came in handy: “After a crown prep, the patient said, ‘Thank you so much for explaining the steps in a way I could understand. I was terrified before I got here and talked with you.’”

“Will this procedure hurt?”

Sometimes, patients care less about what the actual procedure entails and more about whether it will be painful or uncomfortable. One of the top reasons patients experience anxiety about visiting the dentist is because they anticipate that the treatment will be painful. Fortunately, modern dental procedures are usually pain-free to patients — and dental assistants are skilled at alleviating patients’ fears. Dental assistants are excellent listeners and spend time speaking to patients about why they’re nervous, whether it’s due to a past experience or general anxiety about undergoing a procedure. Dental assistants can then explain what the dental staff will do to make the patient comfortable and prevent any pain.

Mikala recalls comforting a patient who was fearful of getting a tooth pulled: “We extracted her tooth, and she cried so hard while thanking the doctor and me. She came the next week with a card and a fruit basket.”

“How have you been?”

This is a basic question, but it demonstrates the importance of the patient-dental assistant relationship. When patients have been coming to your office for many years, you get to know them and vice versa. You might get excited when you see their name on the appointment calendar, as it’s an opportunity to catch up on what’s been happening in each other’s lives over the last several months. These bonds make dental assisting especially meaningful. Plus, when patients are comfortable with the dental staff, they’re more likely to have a good experience and ultimately return for future visits.

Danielle fondly remembers getting to work with four generations of a family in her previous practice: “When I started there, the grandmother was in her early 60s, and by the time I left, she was in her early 80s and had become a great grandmother,” she shares. “Taking care of the entire family and knowing each one personally was such a wonderful experience.”

Read more: Why dental assistants love working with patients