Thinking about becoming a dental assistant? Assisting is a fast-paced career where you have the opportunity to take on different types of roles depending on the office you work in and the type of dental assistant you want to be. The ultimate goal of a dental assistant is to keep everything running smoothly for the dentist and their patients.
Your typical dental assistant works chairside with the dentist. However, most dental offices have more than one assistant and each of the assistants have different responsibilities. For example, you might have one that assists with hygiene patients, another who is always working sterilization, one who handles all of the ortho cases, or another who “floats” between the back clinical area and the front desk.
Each morning, the dental assistant will arrive to the office and turn on all of the equipment for the day (such as compressors, sterilization machines, flushing the water lines, etc.)
After the morning huddle (the meeting where everyone discusses each patient and the care they need for the day) the assistant will make sure all of the instruments have been sterilized and set up trays for each appointment. Every procedure requires different instruments and supplies, so there’s a separate tray setup for each visit.
Assistants also need to make sure that their rooms are stocked with the supplies they need, such as gauze, napkins, cotton rolls, etc. Stocking is normal during the day when there’s downtime, but you certainly want to start off with everything full.
Now for the fun stuff. The assistant will bring the patient back, take their blood pressure, review their medical/health history, and make sure everything is ready for their procedure.
They call it “four-handed dentistry” because assistants work side-by-side with their dentist to provide clinical care to the patient. You’re essentially anticipating every move the dentist is going to make, grabbing the next piece of equipment or instrument that they need, and having it ready for them before they even ask. The longer you work with a dentist, the easier this part gets!
Aside from passing a lot of instruments back and forth and suctioning saliva, assistants might also take post-op X-rays or seat patients in an adjacent room to get them ready (allowing the dentist to work out of two rooms at once.)
After the last patient leaves for the day, the assistants will work to clean all of the rooms and set them up for the next day’s first patient. They’ll also make sure all of the sterilization equipment is running, clean out the suction trays, and flush water lines before turning off the compressors. They might also need to make post-op calls to patients who had major treatments performed that day and box up any lab work to be shipped.
There’s nothing mundane about being a dental assistant! The day in the life of an assistant varies from one to the next. You’ll learn a lot, get to meet great people, and most importantly be an important part of a team.
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