Dental Assistant Job Description - Responsibilities, Skills, Qualifications
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What Does a Dental Assistant Do?
A dental assistant (or dental nurse) is a dental health professional who works in a dental surgery, dental clinic or dental practice. Dental assistants assist dentists during the examination and treatment of patients and also perform secretarial and clerical functions (e.g. welcoming patients and retrieving their dental records).
A dental surgery assistant is typically the first person a client has contact with at a dental clinic. They are responsible for greeting patients upon arrival, making them feel welcome and setting them at ease. Dental assistants are also responsible for preparing work areas for patient treatment and preparing the materials and instruments that will be required during a dental procedure (e.g. the installation of a dental implant, treatment of dental caries, root canal procedure or other surgical procedure). During treatment, the assistant is responsible for passing the dentist the required tools and providing continuous assistance. Dental assistants are also take care of all of the instruments used during a procedure (e.g. air turbines, handpieces, air/water syringes, pliers and tweezers, burs, spatulas, curing lights etc.), i.e. disposing of any single-use materials in accordance with the applicable regulations and sterilizing and disinfecting reusable tools.
Dental assistants work in close collaboration with the dentist, orthodontist or implantologist and in fact good coordination between a dentist and his or her dental assistant is a key factor in a successful dental procedure.
In addition to the above, dental assistants also carry out various secretarial and administrative duties, including fixing appointments and managing dentists’ diaries, receiving and managing payments from clients, filing client records, monitoring stock levels of dental supplies and preparing and placing orders, as and when necessary.
The working hours of a dental assistant are essential the same as those of the dentist. Depending on requirements, larger clinics and surgeries will typically have a number of dental assistants working shifts to cover the clinic’s opening hours.
Dental Assistant Duties and Responsibilities
The main duties of a dental assistant include:
- Greeting clients
- Preparing the work area for patient treatment
- Preparing dental materials and instruments
- Assisting the dentist during patient treatment
- Cleaning and sterilizing dental instruments
- Disinfecting the work area and taking care of material used during treatment (instrument reprocessing)
- Managing the clinic’s appointments diary
- Performing clerical and administrative duties
How to Become a Dental Assistant: Education, Training and Requirements
The qualifications required to work as a dental assistant vary from country to country, but in most cases will involve either starting in a trainee position in a dental clinic or surgery or attending a course in dental assisting or dental nursing. Courses will typically cover subjects such as anatomy and physiology of the oral cavity, dental treatment, disinfection and sterilization
of instruments/the work area, dental instruments and equipment and first aid. They may also deal with aspects of practice management, such as basic accounting and administration processes.
A dental assistant will subsequently acquire the additional skills and knowledge they require through direct on-the-job experience in the surgery.
Dental assistants do not require a formal medical training because their duties do not include performing dental procedures, which are carried out exclusively by dentists.
Dental Assistant Skills
The essential requirements to become a dental assistant are as follows:
- Dental assistance skills
- Knowledge of disinfection and sterilization techniques
- Care and precision during patient treatment
- Friendly and gentle manner, ability to relate to patients
- Excellent organizational skills
- Strong knowledge and use of PC and common software applications
- Calm and reassuring manner
With the appropriate training, a person starting out as a secretary in a dental surgery can become a dental assistant. For those already working as dental assistants, there are a range of professional growth options, including taking refresher courses or specializing in a specific area, for example in sterilization or in CAD/CAM systems, which are used by dental surgeries to take ‘chairside’ digital impressions and to produce dental restoration products (e.g. a tooth or bridge) in a matter of minutes.
Another option for a qualified dental assistant is to further their career by moving to a larger, more modern surgery or clinic offering a higher salary.
Top Reasons to Work as a Dental Assistant
Dental assistants have a range of responsibilities, including
greeting patients, providing chair-side assistance to dentists and performing general practice management duties. The role is therefore an all-round one, requiring commitment and professional dedication.
As a dental assistant passes a significant proportion of their time at work in close contact with dentists and patients, the role is especially suited to people with excellent communication and listening skills who have an interest in looking after the well-being of patients needing dental treatment. A significant advantage of the job are the working hours, which typically are compatible with a healthy work-life balance.