Appreciating all the things dental assistants do behind the scenes

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When many people think of dental assistants, they think of the person who helps the dentist during cleanings and procedures. But the job goes far beyond that. Behind the scenes, dental assistants perform many other tasks to keep their practices running like a well-oiled machine.

“A dentist will cancel their schedule without a dental assistant — that is how critical their role can be,” says JoAnn Brandt, CDA.

In honor of Dental Assistants Recognition Week, we want to shine a light on some of the underappreciated duties a dental assistant takes on every day.

Cleaning and preparing exam rooms

Before a patient even arrives at the office, dental assistants are hard at work preparing for the appointment.

This can involve a variety of tasks. Dental assistants are usually responsible for implementing infection control, such as sterilizing each instrument the dentist will need and disinfecting exam rooms. They also flush water lines, set up exam rooms, and prepare instrument trays the dentist will need for each patient. Dental assistants repeat these steps between patients and at the end of the day.

“We keep the office going. We’re usually the first to arrive and the last to leave,” says Janaya Grow, CDA.

Ordering supplies

Many dental assistants are responsible for keeping their offices stocked with the proper supplies. It may sound simple, but it takes strong planning and organizational skills to ensure the office always has the supplies necessary to provide quality patient care and stay on schedule.

As part of the process, dental assistants must stock and organize supply rooms, keep track of inventory, establish relationships with vendors, schedule deliveries, and stay within a budget. It’s hard work — on top of all the other duties a dental assistant has.

“Most things we do are unseen,” says Michele Gambardella, CDA. “People don't realize how much we do. We do so much in the office that involves more than just being chairside. We are the glue that keeps everyone connected whether it is a patient's treatment plan or keeping the office clean, safe and stocked.”

Performing administrative tasks

Dental assistants often help front desk staff or office managers with a variety of duties. In some offices, they may perform these tasks on their own. They may assist with scheduling and confirming appointments, processing payments, submitting insurance claims, answering calls and more.

“The dental assistant holds the schedule together of the whole office, often times having their own list of tasks that need attention but stopping to help a team member,” says Maria Walker, CDA. “Dental assistants are crucial to a good office.”

Staying on top of knowledge

Dental assistants go through many hours of training when they begin their careers. But the learning doesn’t stop there.

They keep up with the latest developments, trends and technology in the industry to provide the best care to patients and stay on the same page as their dentists. Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) certificants must renew their certification every year, which includes earning continuing education credits to expand upon their clinical knowledge.

There are many other avenues for dental assistants to expand their knowledge, too. The DALE Foundation provides a variety of continuing education resources, ranging from radiation safety and infection control to dental office management.

“I have been doing this for 21 years and I can say the basics have remained the same, but it is always exciting to learn new technology and practices,” says Tara Nelson, CDA.