Wondering what a dental assistant does on a daily basis?
We’ve broken down a day in the life of a dental assistant to help you understand what it takes to be a dental assistant.
The Morning Meeting
As a dental assistant, your day may start with a morning meeting.
This is an opportunity for the dental staff, including the dentist, office manager, assistants, hygienists, and front office staff discuss the daily schedule and treatment plans.
This is your opportunity to get organized and work together as a team to plan out the day.
After the morning meeting, many dental assistants will begin preparing for each of the day’s patients.
At this point, the dental assistant will look at each patient’s chart and prepare a tray based on that individual’s treatment plan. In some offices, everyone may pitch in with this effort.
You’ll turn on equipment and prepare the sterilization room. This may include filling the ultrasonic, removing instruments from the autoclave, filling water bottles, and flushing the water lines.
Treatment Room Prep
A dental assistant will get the treatment room ready for the first patient, setup trays, cover the seat and headrest with a barrier, and may use barrier tape on equipment that will be touched by the dentist or hygienist.
The assistant will greet the patient once they’ve checked in at the front desk and filled out all their forms. Then the assistant will guide the patient back to the treatment room, seat them in the room, and help them put on a bib.
Next, the dental assistant will ask the patient about their health history, particularly if there are any changes since their last visit, take their blood pressure, and record all information and procedures in the patient’s chart.
Assisting the Dentist
The duties here will vary depending on the procedure and may include:
- Anticipating the dentist’s needs
- Handing the appropriate dental instruments to the dentist at the appropriate time
- Taking instruments from the dentist once they have been used and are not needed
Initially, this may be the hardest part of the job, as a new assistant may have difficulty anticipating the needs of the dentist. However, as your rapport with the dentist improves over time, you’ll be able to anticipate which instruments the dentist prefers and the order they like to use the instruments, this process becomes a very natural and easeful flow.
4-handed vs 6-handed Dentistry
In some cases, it may just be you and the dentist working together on a patient. When this is the situation, this is called 4-handed dentistry.
However, depending on the procedure and the dentist’s preferences, you may also engage in 6-handed dentistry, where there are two assistants working together to provide support to the dentist.
These situations require even more collaboration and communication, which also improves the longer you’ve worked together as a team.
Assistants may take x-rays pre or post-op. This requires training in order to understand how to use the equipment, as well as the proper angle for the machine to get the appropriate shot the dentist needs to see what they are wanting to look at.
Rinse and Repeat
Now that the first patient is done with their treatment, you’ll walk them up to the front of the office and say goodbye.
Then you’ll start over with preparing the room for the next treatment. You’ll remove the patient’s tray, taking it to the sterilization room and putting the instruments in the ultrasonic, then the autoclave.
You’ll clean and sterilize the room and get the new patient’s tray.
Then, you’ll greet the next patient and do the entire process all over again.
The thing that keeps this from being too monotonous is that it’s a new patient with a new procedure.
Working in Multiple Rooms
There are many ways to cut down on treatment time and many of those include teamwork and the use of multiple rooms.
For example, sometimes the front desk staff may assist the assistant in cleaning and prepping a room to cut down on the time between patients.
If the dentist’s office has multiple rooms, sometimes the dentist will be finishing up with one patient, while the dental assistant will get the next patient started on their treatment. This may include walking them back to a second treatment room, getting them comfortable, taking their medical history and charting new information, and taking any pre-op x-rays.
While this results in improved time management for the office as a whole, it may also result in a lot of hustling for the dental assistant with very little downtime between patients.
The positive here is that the day goes by super quickly and you rarely have time to be bored.
End of Day
After the last patient of the day has been seen, the assistant helps to clean everything. This includes all the treatment rooms, emptying the water lines, cleaning the suctions, and sterilizing any equipment that has been used.
After everything is clean, an assistant may prepare the tray for the next day’s first patient, so the next morning runs smoothly.
Other duties of a dental assistant may include:
- Making phone calls to patients
- Long-term instrument and sterilization maintenance
- Other duties assigned by the dentist
Daily Duties Recap
To recap…a dental assistant will:
- Provide comfort and care to patients
- Work as a team to prepare for the day’s appointments
- Have knowledge of procedures
- Clean, disinfect, and sterilize all instruments
- Provide assistance to the doctor whether it is 4-handed or 6-handed dentistry
- Become familiar with different types of protocols when assisting in the treatment
- Take excellent diagnostic x-rays
- Record all procedures, medical history, etc in patient charts
- Clean and maintain sterilization area
- Clean and maintain operatory
- Prepare material for each procedure based on the doctor’s preference.
- Provide post-operative instructions from procedures done
- Clean and maintain all office equipment and laboratory equipment
- Inventory all supplies in office and operatories
Dental assistants may work in a variety of office settings, including:
- General dentistry
- Cosmetic dentistry
- Pediatric dentistry
- Oral surgery
We hope that helps you understand more about what it’s like to work as a dental assistant.
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