What Does A Dental Assistant Do?

"I’m contemplating on becoming a dentist but I want to make sure that I am fit for it before I spend a lot of time and money going to dental school. I’m thinking of becoming a dental assistant but I’m not sure about what the job entails. What does a dental assistant do?"

asked by Lulu G. from Hot Springs, Arkansas

Dental assistants are integral members of an oral healthcare team. They also hold a wide variety of tasks, ranging from technical tasks that involve assisting the dentist in procedures and performing clerical tasks like scheduling appointments and assisting patients in processing billing and payment.

One of the responsibilities of dental assistants is getting a patient’s medical history. They also get the pulse rate, blood pressure and other vital signs before sending them to the dentist. Not many people like the thought of having their teeth pulled so they harbor a lot of fear when going to the dentist. It is the task of dental assistants to reassure them that there is no need to worry before the treatment starts. They also make the patient comfortable during and after treatment.

Dental assistants also take and develop dental radiographs, also known as x-rays, and finish laboratory tests as instructed by the dentist. They may also take impressions of a patient’s teeth to make models of them or make temporary crowns. They do this under the supervision of the dentist. A very important part of the job of dental assistants is sterilizing instruments and equipment that will be used. This is done to ensure that these are sanitary and free from infection.

When a dentist is performing a procedure, dental assistants help by providing the tools and implements asked for. In some states, dental assistants may be able to conduct coronal polishing, sealant application, fluoride application and topical anesthetics application. The state could still require them to meet certain requirements such as passing exams before they could be qualified to do these procedures.

Coronal polishing entails removing plaque and other deposits to make teeth cleaner while sealant application is a procedure where a plastic substance is placed on the teeth to keep bacteria and food particles out and prevent cavities. Another measure that protects against cavity formation is the application of fluoride on the teeth. Some states may also allow qualified dental assistants to put on topical anesthetic to the area in the mouth that the dentist will work on.

When they are not helping dentists, dental assistants schedule appointments, answer the phone and order supplies. They also work with patients to process payments. They also file patient records so that these can be easily retrieved in follow up visits.

In the performance of their tasks, dental assistants need to make sure that they are protected from infectious illnesses by wearing safety gear, including surgical masks, safety glasses, gloves and other protective clothing. They should also observe protocol when it comes to doing x-rays to minimize the risk of exposure.

Career Spotlight: Dental Assistant

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