Dental Assisting Profession for Dental Assisting Exam Study Guide (page 4)
The dental assistant works closely with a supervising dentist. Dentists depend on dental assistants for a great many things. Assistants are responsible for sterilizing and preparing instruments and equipment, keeping patient records, and preparing materials and instruments in the treatment rooms. Many dentists would not know where to locate their instruments and supplies, how to sterilize them, and how to set up and break down the treatment room without the dental assistant present in the office.
The Dental Healthcare Team
The dental healthcare team consists of the following:
- Dental Assistant (in various roles throughout the office)
- Dental Hygienist
- Dental Laboratory Technician
One of the most important roles dental assistants play is to reassure patients and make them comfortable while they are prepared for treatment. Compassion is an essential quality in dental assistants. When a professional dental assistant treats a patient with compassion and concern, along with respect, the dental assistant is respected in return. A chairside dental assistant will escort the dentist throughout the entire day, moving from one treatment room to the next. The assistant will pass instruments and materials to the dentist as needed, often anticipating the dentist’s needs. The dental assistant also ensures that patient records are accurate and educates patients about oral healthcare.
A professional dental assistant adds to the overall efficiency of the dental practice. Treatment procedures run more smoothly and effectively with a professional dental assistant in place. The members of the dental healthcare team and their roles are discussed below.
The dentist is often the owner/operator of the dental practice. Although dentists treat patients and are healthcare providers, they are also running a business. A dentist can be either a generalist or a specialist. A general dentist treats patients of all ages and can perform a wide variety of dental procedures. The general dentist must take approximately seven to eight years of post-secondary schooling (four years of undergraduate work to obtain a bachelor degree, and then another three to four years of dental school) to become eligible to take his or her national and state board examinations. The national exams are written, whereas individual states give clinical board examinations.
One may notice that dentists have initials after their names: DDS or DMD. These letters represent the degree they earned from their dental school. Dental schools on the east coast of the United States generally offer Doctor of Medical Dentistry degrees, or DMD. Dental schools on the west coast of the United States generally offer Doctor of Dental Surgery degrees, or DDS. There is no difference between the two degrees. A specialty dentist must complete the same education as the general dentist and receives a DDS or DMD. After that, the individual applies to be admitted to a specialized area of dentistry that is of interest to her or him. Depending upon the specialty chosen, the dentist may attend school for another three to six years.
A specialty dentist treats patients depending on their needs. For example, an endodontist will treat patients who need a root canal performed, a pediatric dentist treats children, and so on. These are two of the nine specialties recognized by the American Dental Association.
A dental assistant takes on many roles in a dental practice. This individual is very versatile, adaptable, and knowledgeable. The following four positions are fulfilled by dental assistants in the office:
- clinical dental assistant
- sterilization assistant
- expanded-function dental assistant (EFDA)
- business assistant
Clinical Dental Assistant
The clinical assistant is the individual most closely involved in patient care. This function is further broken down into chairside assistant and circulating/roving assistant.
This person is responsible for running the clinical end of the dental practice and is involved with direct patient care. This assistant has many duties and performs various functions for the dentist. Chief among them is fourhanded dentistry. This term refers to the teamwork between the dentist and assistant when treating patients.
Some examples of a chairside assistant’s duties are:
- greeting and seating patients
- preparation of the treatment/clinical areas
- proper disinfection and sterilization procedures (infection control)
- clinical charting on both paper and/or computerized dental chart
- assisting the dentist during ‘procedure’
- manipulating and passing materials
- instrument transfer
- patient safety and comfort
- patient management
- radiograph exposure and processing
- dental lab procedures
- patient education and post-op instructions
- ordering supplies and inventory control
- adhering to national and state Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations
This assistant performs all of the same duties and functions as the chairside assistant, but also serves as an extra set of hands where needed. This assistant is most effective in offices that practice six-handed dentistry, which refers to the efficient teamwork between the dentist and two assistants. Not all offices have a circulating/roving assistant or practice six-handed dentistry.
This assistant is responsible for the preparation, pre-cleaning, disinfection, and sterilization of all instruments, and for properly disposing of biohazard waste. This assistant enforces infection control protocol along with universal and standard precautions. In addition to overseeing the management of biohazard waste, this assistant often monitors sterilizers and compiles regular reports. Not all dental offices have a separate sterilization assistant, so the duties would fall back on the chairside assistant.
Expanded-Function Dental Assistant (EFDA)
An EFDA is a dental assistant who has additional training in patient procedures beyond the traditional duties of a dental assistant. These expanded functions vary from state to state, depending on local laws.
Business assistants are responsible for the management of the front office area in the practice. They are sometimes known as front-desk assistants, administrative assistants, secretarial assistants, or receptionists. Patients are. They are sometimes known as front-desk assistants, administrative assistants, secretarial assistants, or receptionists. Patients are greeted by these assistants, which means that these assistants create the first impressions of the dental practice.
They perform various support services for the clinical team. Some examples are:
- welcoming patients
- answering the phone
- returning phone calls
- scheduling of patients
- managing clinical records
- handling insurance services
- managing accounts receivables
- managing accounts payable
- maintaining the recall/continuing care systems
- adhering to national Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) standards
- managing internal and external marketing
The dental hygienist is responsible for oral prophylaxis and soft-tissue management. He or she usually works independently in a treatment room, maintaining a separate schedule from the dentist. A hygienist attends school for two years full-time after completing an extensive list of prerequisites, primarily in the field of science. Dental hygienists are required to pass both national and state board examinations successfully to become registered and to practice as a hygienist. Registered dental hygienists (RDH) are eligible to join the American Dental Hygienists Association (ADHA).
Dental Laboratory Technician
The dental laboratory technician is primarily responsible for the fabrication of crowns, bridges, dentures, and any other complex laboratory devices. Sometimes, the lab technician works onsite in a dental office, but often she or he will work offsite in a private laboratory. The lab technician follows the dentist’s instructions in fabricating the dental appliances. These are delivered in lab cases to the dental office by the lab. A dental laboratory technician can become certified as a dental technician (CDT), by successfully completing a written examination. Once they pass this exam and are certified, dental laboratory technicians may join the American Dental Laboratory Technician Association (ADLTA).
Becoming a Dental Assistant
Do you have what it takes to become a professional dental assistant? To work as a professional dental assistant and be part of the dental team requires a number of personal characteristics. You should ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I possess a compassionate nature?
- Am I friendly to everyone I meet?
- Am I respectful?
- Am I honest and trustworthy?
- Do I want to help people?
- Can I manage time wisely?
- Am I efficient and organized?
- Can I abide by rules?
- Can I speak professionally to patients?
- Can I communicate well with all age ranges?
- Am I flexible?
If your answer to these questions is yes, a dental assisting career will be a wise choice for you.
Professional Appearance of a Dental Assistant
The manner in which an assistant presents himself or herself reflects upon not only the individual but also upon the dental practice as a whole. It is important for dental assistants to be aware of how they are presenting themselves as they work in such close proximity to patients and dentists.
Professional dental assistants present themselves in the following way:
- clean and neat appearance
- freshly showered and washed hair
- simple jewelry
- no artificial nails
- limited use of perfume
- appropriate make-up
- hair off the face and eyes
- fresh breath and good oral hygiene (smoking is not recommended)
- freshly laundered uniform
- clean uniform shoes
Dental Assisting as a Career
As of 2006, there were 280,000 dental assistants in the United States, almost all working for individual dentists or small partnerships. A small percentage worked in large clinics and hospitals, and some worked for the government or the military. About 35% of dental assistants worked part-time.
Employment in the field is expected to grow by almost 30% by 2016 to 362,000, making dental assisting one of the fastest-growing professions. In 2006, the average hourly wage of a dental assistant was $14.53. The lowest 10% earned $9.87, and the highest 10% earned $20.69 per hour. The middle 50% earned between $11.94 and $17.44 an hour.
American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA)
The American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA) is a component of the American Dental Association (ADA). It was formed in 1924 by Juliette Southard and is headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. There are chapters in almost every state of the union. This is a professional organization exclusively designed for dental assistants that encourages education, professional development, and licensure. The ADAA is involved with lobbying for legislative changes, and updates members about such issues. Members receive a subscription to The Dental Assistant, the journal of the ADAA. This journal outlines the latest trends and techniques in the field of dental assisting. The ADAA also provides free continuing education courses that are outlined in the journal.
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