March 1, 2019
by Elaine Powell, Practice Auditor at dentalcorp
In honour of Dental Assistants Recognition Week, I’d like to take this opportunity to delve deeper into the integral function of the Dental Assistant. As a former Dental Assistant myself, I am deeply familiar with the multi-dimensionality of the role; yet many clinicians fail to understand its complexity and the tremendous value it brings to the practice. With a shortage of individuals in this profession, it is even more necessary to understand the vital role of the Dental Assistant and why we need to keep them engaged.
The role of the Dental Assistant is much more complex than you might think. They are expert multi-taskers charged with a whole host of responsibilities from patient bookings to sterilizing and reprocessing instruments and ensuring rooms adequately meet health and safety standards before the patient arrives. And it is by no means mindless work. The role requires plenty of attention and planning. As Mehin Malik-Aslanova, former Dental Assistant and current Practice Manager at Dentistry on Green Lane, notes, “We have to have an entire game plan [from] the beginning of the day in our mind all day long. A lot of thinking goes into what we do.”
Dental Assistants know how Dentists work and can anticipate their next move. As Mehin notes, “We can see through dentists’ eyes. As Dental Assistants, we cover it all, from the beginning to the end – from greeting the patients to actually completing the treatment, to knowing their stories – it’s being the dentist outside of the chair.”
They ultimately keep things moving so Dentists can continue to provide safe and effective patient care. Dr. Michelle Budd, Dentist and Patient Safety Consultant at dentalcorp, further notes, “A dental assistant is the key player in building the patient’s trust and ensuring they have a comfortable experience. They support the dentist in so many ways, not just assisting in clinical treatment but also in patient management and case acceptance. They are essential to every aspect of patient care and vital to an effective dental team.”
The role of a Dental Assistant is far from black and white. The multi-dimensionality of the role creates tremendous opportunities for growth – to learn new skills and take on additional responsibilities. Mehin, who began her career as a Dental Assistant and progressed into increasingly senior positions, understands the need for professional development and urges dentists to encourage growth among their Dental Assistants, “Some assistants might want to do more. Certain things might become repetitive. Repetitive work can really slow you down and slow your mind, and if you’re not learning and progressing, you are going backwards. More responsibility brings differences in your daily work life and so it keeps you interested, keeps you engaged, keeps you growing, and it brings a different purpose to your job.”
About the Author
Elaine is an oral health care professional with over 40 years of experience working in general, periodontal and orthodontic dentistry practices. Elaine began her career as a Dental Assistant and later graduated as a Dental Therapist in London, UK. She later continued her oral health education, becoming a Registered Dental Hygienist in Canada.
She emigrated from the UK in 1974 to work for Health and Welfare Canada, where she provided oral health services in Northern Manitoba as a Dental Therapist and in Northern Ontario as a Dental Hygienist.
She has taught Dental Assisting and Dental Hygiene at Confederation College and Royal London Hospital, and has provided practice advice for over 13,000 Dental Hygienists at the College of Dental Hygienists of Ontario.
In her current role as Practice Auditor at dentalcorp, she supports dental teams in providing safe and effective patient care.