Ask any dental assistant what their favorite part of the job is, and you’ll hear a variety of answers. Some enjoy the camaraderie of working in the office. Others enjoy getting to apply their technical knowledge as they help with various dental procedures. But perhaps the most common response you’ll hear is: “I love working with my patients.”
“My patients are truly my family,” says Jamie Vowell, CDA, CRFDA, RDA. “I know about their kids and husbands and everything going on in their lives. They know the same about me.”
Kelly Goodin, CDA, EFDA, agrees: “It’s a blessing to care for patients every day.”
Here’s why it’s so rewarding for dental assistants to work with patients.
Dental assistants spend time with patients throughout their appointments. Often, a dental assistant is a patient’s first touchpoint when they arrive at the office and the last person they see when they leave. Naturally, relationships — and even friendships — form over time as patients gain trust and build rapport with their dental assistants.
“I love getting to know patients and just being a listening ear to so many different life experiences,” says Jaymie Stronks, CDA.
This is why dental assistants are crucial to patient retention. As patients get more comfortable in the dental office, they’re more likely to come back for future appointments. According to the DALE Foundation’s Value of Dental Assistants to the Dental Practice survey, 97% of dentists and office managers reported that dental assistants contribute to patient retention. Additionally, 91% said dental assistants make it more likely that the patient will accept the dentist-recommended treatment plan.
Some patients look forward to their appointments just so they can see their favorite dental assistants.
“It warms my heart when my patients want to see me,” says Carrie Harvey, CDA.
Amanda Valcanoff, CDA, echoes that sentiment: “I love the bonds that I’m able to make with my patients. I know that after whatever procedure we do, they’re always going to come out better than how they came in. I especially love hearing them say that they’ve never had such a great team of assistants and doctors work so well together.”
For a variety of reasons, people of all ages may feel nervous about visiting a dentist. Some patients may be self-conscious about the appearance of their teeth, while others are worried about feeling pain during procedures.
Dental assistants are highly skilled at addressing these fears and making patients comfortable. These professionals understand and empathize with their patients’ concerns, answer questions, and explain procedures in easy-to-comprehend terms. Sometimes, comforting patients can mean giving them a pillow and sunglasses or even holding their hand.
“We constantly put out energy to make our patients feel comfortable and create a happy, enjoyable atmosphere,” says Judy Telfer, CDA.
“Patients who are nervous or scared really appreciate how patient and calm we are,” explains Nicole Eldridge, CDA. “We walk them through the procedure step by step.”
In many cases, dental assistants can completely turn a patient’s initial attitude around and make visiting the dental office a positive experience.
“My most memorable interaction was when a patient came in after not having a dental home for nearing 20 years. They cried and were so nervous,” recalls Laura Fleming, CDA. “By the end of the appointment, they told me they were so happy they came into our office and got me as their dental assistant. That made me feel so great!”
Improving oral health and confidence
From implementing infection control protocols and taking x-rays to helping dentists during a variety of procedures, dental assistants have a direct role in their patients’ oral health. Just about every dental assistant can tell stories of times they’ve helped patients become pain-free or regain their confidence with a renewed smile.
“One of the most rewarding aspects of assisting is when we see someone’s self-image make a total turnaround for the better and know we got to be part of that life-changing event,” says Telfer.
Dental assistants help with more than preserving or restoring smiles, however. They educate patients, too, whether it’s explaining a treatment, giving advice on at-home care, or emphasizing the impact oral health has on overall wellness.
“In years past, dentistry and medicine were separate entities — as if the body and the mouth were separate themselves,” explains Ruscio. “Years of research has led us to understand that there is a relationship between oral health and overall health, and that conditions in the mouth and conditions in the body share a reciprocal relationship. This is information we can share with our patients.”
Of all the rewarding aspects of dental assisting, impacting patient health is at the top of the list for many in the profession.
“The best thing about being a dental assistant is making a difference in people’s lives by helping to make their mouths healthier and more beautiful,” says Molly Jones, CDA, EFDA.
Brenda Macias, CDA, agrees: “The smile that forms on a face after being pain-free or when they get stains and cavities removed — that is the victory for me!”
What do you love about working with patients? Let us know.