4 tips for training dental assistants

an employee handbook sitting on a table

There are multiple pathways for entering the dental assisting profession. Some choose to attend a dental assisting educational program, while others are trained on the job. Due to the ongoing dental assistant shortage, many practices are filling open positions with untrained assistants and devoting more time to on-the-job training.

How can practices set dental assistants up for success? Here are a few tips for optimizing your on-the-job training program.

Look for the right qualities

Not just anyone can be a dental assistant. To find someone who can step into the role and learn the ropes on the job, you’ll need to look for certain characteristics. For instance, are they motivated to learn? Do they have a good attitude? Will they be a team player? These traits are crucial for adapting to the fast-paced nature of a dental office and learning how to manage the many responsibilities of a dental assistant.

Establish protocols

To create a smooth onboarding process for new dental assistants, it’s helpful to establish a framework for training your dental assistants. There’s a lot to learn, so practices need to have a set of established policies and procedures. Some of these protocols are mandated by state or federal regulations. This includes the HIPAA, OSHA, and CDC guidelines on patient health information and infection control, as well as the ethical and legal aspects of dental assisting. Practices should also have their own policies concerning specific day-to-day operations, such as each staff member’s role and responsibilities. While it will take some time for a new dental assistant to learn all the essential information, having procedures in place will help them hit the ground running.

Create a training schedule

Plan a training schedule for dental assistants, setting goals and benchmarks for when they should hit certain milestones. Getting the whole dental team involved can help get assistants up to speed on various aspects of the practice. Plus, it keeps the entire training process from falling on one person. For example, you can allow new assistants to shadow various staff members to learn how things are done in your office, from assisting with procedures and sterilizing instruments to scheduling appointments and restocking supplies. The DALE Foundation’s Dental Assisting Curriculum Framework offers outlines and suggested resources to develop a training program for new dental assistants.

Invest in your team

Training doesn’t stop after a dental assistant’s initial onboarding — supporting your staff in their continuing education will benefit them and the practice in the long run. It can help dental assistants earn certification that boosts their knowledge and allows them to better serve patients. The Dental Assisting Curriculum Framework can help prepare dental assistants to earn NELDA and CDA certification. Certified Dental Assistants are more likely to show career commitment, employer loyalty, and view dental assisting as a career, according to DANB’s Dental Assistants Salary and Satisfaction Report.

Want to take your training to the next level? The DALE Foundation’s Dental Assisting Curriculum Framework can supplement your in-office training by providing a structured program to help your dental assistants progress through the material outside of office hours and build their knowledge and skills.