Dental assistants play a critical role within the dental team. They prepare for and assist with a variety of dental procedures, all while supporting providers and comforting patients. These hardworking, multitalented professionals deserve accolades, and Dental Assistants Recognition Week (DARW) — March 5-11, 2023 — is the perfect opportunity for members of the dental team to celebrate their invaluable contributions.
“We would be nothing without our amazing assistants!”
Mark V. Wainright, D.D.S., FAGD, knows the importance of dental assistants firsthand. He credits them with handling a multitude of responsibilities while delivering top-notch customer service at his practice, Wainright & Wassel DDS in Raleigh, North Carolina.
“We would be nothing without our amazing assistants! Dental assistants take on so many roles that it’s hard to even fathom all they do. They are treatment coordinators, and their ultimate goal is being there for patients and doctors during procedures,” says Wainright. “Dental assistants are also planners, relationship-builders, photographers, scanners, notetakers and diplomats. They are fail-safe checkpoints, they are liaisons, and they are materials wizards. They are IT [information technology] people, they are sterilizers, and they are counselors.”
Dental assistants are experts in their own role, but they also need to understand every aspect of the provider’s work. As the practice administrator and vice president of Wainright & Wassel DDS, Debbie Evans, DAADOM, appreciates the vast knowledge that dental assistants bring to the practice.
“I don’t think people realize everything that dental assistants do. They write notes, they take x-rays, and they do a million other things,” says Evans. “The dentists are the ones who are actually doing the work on patients, but assistants have to know everything that the dentist is doing and more.”
“A dental assistant’s superpower is knowing the next step without being asked or told.”
A career in dentistry is incredibly rewarding, but it can also come with a lot of responsibility and stress. Members of the dental team know that dental assistants help unify staff and build morale under any circumstance. “Dental assistants are team-builders, and they are the smiling face of any great dental practice,” says Wainright.
As the dental administrative chair at Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo, Iowa, Emily Boge, CDA, RDH, Ed.D., prepares the next generation of dental assistants to enter the profession. Boge also has a clinical background as a dental assistant and a dental hygienist, where she experienced the positive impact assistants have on the team.
“When I was a hygienist and doing a sealant, it was important to have an assistant as my extra set of eyes, ears and hands,” she says. “Dental assistants often address the nervous energy of the patient while they are predicting the movements and actions of the provider. They’re always doing something — they don’t have any downtime.”
In addition to chairside duties, dental assistants often support the team by handling office functions. Dental assistants keep the practice running smoothly and efficiently, according to Dawn Damron, RDH, M.A., a dental sciences instructor at Woodhaven-Brownstown School District in Michigan.
“Dental assistants help in all aspects of the office — from ordering, stocking, cleaning rooms and setting up, to keeping track of procedures and patients,” she says. “A dental assistant’s superpower is knowing the next step without being asked or told.”
“They take such great care of their patients.”
One of the many talents that dental assistants possess is the ability to enhance the patient experience. These dental professionals use their knowledge and intuition to anticipate the needs of a wide variety of people who visit their chair.
“In my experience, one of the most critical skills of a dental assistant is the ability to listen and communicate with the patient and read the situation,” says Boge. “Sometimes you have a patient who wants all of the details. Other times, you have a patient who just wants to get their work done and get out. It’s important to be able to read that situation because the provider is so focused on the task at hand.”
As the eyes and ears of providers, dental assistants are often a supportive and calming presence for patients. “You’re always evaluating the patient’s needs and communicating what the provider is doing and helping to ease the patient’s mind and prepare them for what’s going to happen next,” Boge says.
Dental assistants also play a key role in patient satisfaction and retention. Evans sees how they build relationships with everyone who walks through the door, creating an inviting environment that keeps people coming back for years to come.
“They take such great care of their patients, and they often become friends and talk about their lives,” she says. “The patients feel like it’s more of a small practice and they know everybody — it feels like family.”
DARW is one way to honor dental assistants, but these invaluable members of the dental team deserve praise for the year-round passion and dedication they bring to their patients and colleagues.
“It’s a really big job, and if you get someone who’s really good at it, it’s such a blessing,” says Boge.