Imagining a practice without a dental assistant

blue puzzle with a missing piece

Dental assistants are so integral to practices that it can be hard to imagine life without them. They assist the dentist during procedures, comfort patients, manage infection control, prepare exam rooms and instruments, and so much more. In a sense, dental assistants are like electricity that powers a home: They’re always working, often behind the scenes and unnoticed, to keep the practice moving. Without electricity, people can temporarily get by with a flashlight or a backup generator, but it disrupts their lives substantially. Similarly, a dental practice would struggle to function without dental assistants.

As we celebrate Dental Assistants Recognition Week (DARW), let’s appreciate all that dental assistants bring to the table — by imagining a practice without them.

Less efficiency

To accommodate a maximum number of patients each day, dental offices run on tight schedules. Everyone must work in sync to keep up with a full day of appointments, while also staying flexible if the schedule changes unexpectedly due to last-minute cancellations or emergencies. Without dental assistants, there would be a significant reduction in patient flow. Offices wouldn’t be able to see as many patients in a day. Patients may have to sit in the waiting room longer. And they may have to wait longer to schedule their appointments in the first place, delaying critical treatments.

“The relationships dental assistants make with the patients and the efficiency they add to the procedures are crucial to providing good dental experiences and making offices run smoothly,” says Leslie.

Not only would wait times increase and appointments take longer, but fewer patients would also mean less revenue for practices.

“A dental assistant is the dentist’s right — or left — hand, and without us, the practice would not generate the money they do,” explains Deborah.

Lower quality of patient care

Dental assistants do a lot to ensure patients have comfortable, safe, and pleasant experiences. While dentists, hygienists, and office managers are also skilled in patient care, dental assistants help complete the puzzle.

For example, dental assistants often serve as the liaison between patients and dentists, communicating key information about procedures, answering questions, and providing aftercare instructions. All of this serves to educate and calm patients. Without dental assistants, other staff members may not have time to dedicate toward talking with patients. It’s also possible that patients would be less accepting of their treatment plans.

“Patients trust us to keep them safe and comfortable,” explains Jaquana. “Without an assistant in the room to keep the appointment flowing and breaking the ice, I believe a lot of patients would turn down the work that needs to be done.”

“Without assistants, doctors wouldn’t be able to perform effectively and safely with patients,” says Stacey. “Assistants not only manage patient safety and security in the restorative side of dentistry, but we also play a role in OSHA and keeping our team and office safe at all times.”

More work for others

Dental assistants have a hand in every aspect of a practice. Most prominently, they work chairside to help dentists during procedures. They anticipate which instrument or material the dentist will need next, suction away saliva and water, and keep the patient calm. But four-handed dentistry isn’t possible with two hands; a dentist can’t do all of these things while also maneuvering instruments inside a patient’s mouth. Appointments would undoubtedly be more difficult and time-consuming for dentists without a dental assistant by their side.

In a world without dental assistants, other staff members would have to prepare exam rooms between appointments, prepare instruments and trays, carry out infection control protocols, take x-rays, answer patient questions, order supplies, maintain patient records, answer phones, call in labs, and more. Quite simply, it would add substantially more to everyone’s plates.

“They provide support and assistance without hesitation and, most of the time, without being asked,” says Deb, a dental assisting instructor.

Megan, a dental office manager, agrees: “The doctor and the patient lay a lot of trust in the hands of our assistants. Our office could not function without them. Yes, they work chairside with the doctor, but there is a lot of stuff they handle independently during the appointments and behind the scenes.”

Read more: Why the whole team should appreciate dental assistants