The Pandemic Demonstrated That Dental Assistants Are Indispensable (But We Already Knew That)
Of course, dental assistants have earned our gratitude all year round. Dental assistants are the hardworking heroes who keep practices running smoothly and patients happy.
This March, America’s dental assistants deserve all the praise we can offer for all the ways they’ve risen to the occasion throughout the COVID-19 crisis.
Making Patient Comfort a Priority
The typical dental assistant performs so many essential functions that it can be difficult to single out just one. But to a patient – especially a patient who might be anxious about visiting the dentist – a dental assistant’s most valuable role is as a source of comfort, understanding, and reassurance.
Henry illustrated this point with a tale about his mother, a lifelong “dental-phobe” who lost half of a front tooth and was extremely reluctant to get it fixed.
As the appointment time approached, “My mom got more and more scared,” Henry said. On the way in, Henry and his crying mother met the practice’s lead dental assistant, Jen, who was on her way out to pick up her children.
The appointment got off to a rocky start, with Henry doing his best to aid his mother:
“All of a sudden, the front door opens, and guess who walks back in. It’s Jen. You know what Jen did for the next 45 minutes of her life, for a complete stranger? She did this: ‘It’s going to be ok.’ ‘[The doctor] is doing an excellent job.’ ‘You’re doing great.’ ‘Is there anything you need?’”
Without being asked and on her own time, Jen the dental assistant comforted Henry’s mother through the entire procedure – and became the reason why his mother goes back to that dentist today.
“One thing I love,” Henry said, “is that Jen made a difference.”
The dental assistant’s skill at soothing anxious patients has become even more crucial during the pandemic. As patients return for routine care, they look to dental assistants for assurance the practice is doing everything possible to keep them safe.
“Despite the PPE, despite everything that you're wearing, your patients can sense your confidence and see your smile behind that mask, and it's important to them,” Henry told his audience of dental assistants. “They trust you.”
Screening Patients and Implementing Social Distancing
Entering 2020, dental assistants already had their plates full of responsibilities. Yet, after the coronavirus arrived, many assistants dug deep within themselves to find the energy and courage to take on tasks they never expected to handle.
Increasingly, dental assistants are now screening patients for signs of infection and exposure risk to prevent patients from bringing the virus into the office. Screening can involve calling patients before their appointments and assessing them with questionnaires and temperature checks upon arrival.
Once the patient gets through screening, the dental assistant’s new responsibilities don’t get any less burdensome. It often falls to dental assistants to maintain social-distancing measures throughout their practices. This may include moving chairs six feet apart in the waiting room, minimizing the number of people in the waiting room, and documenting the practice’s social-distancing protocols.
Most dental assistants have willingly added all these extra duties to their day not out of obligation but because they prioritize keeping staff and patients healthy. For that, we owe dental assistants our thanks.
Acting as Champions for Infection Prevention and Control
“Long before we knew what COVID-19 was … long before it was part of our daily vocabulary and part of our society … dental assistants and dental practices were doing the right things in terms of infection control and prevention,” Henry said in his talk.
Infection prevention and control in a dental practice is everyone’s responsibility, and dental assistants play a key role, alongside the full dental team, in ensuring infection guidelines are being followed in many practices.
During the COVID pandemic, dental assistants have added additional disinfection and cleaning tasks to their daily routines. Along with typical clinical sterilization, dental assistants are now targeting any shared surfaces for disinfection, including those in waiting rooms, staff areas, and restrooms.
Tija Hunter, dental assistant, speaker and educator, conducted an informal Facebook poll of her fellow dental assistants on the need for mandatory infection prevention and control training. Almost everyone was in favor of the idea.
“I thought this was already a thing,” said one respondent. “Infection control is 101 of dental assisting.”
Another respondent said infection prevention and control training should be mandatory for everyone in a dental office, including the doctor.
How to Thank a Dental Assistant
Dental assistants are often the first people at your practice to interact with patients and the first on the scene when it’s time to manage a potential infection risk. One of the best ways to show your appreciation outside of Dental Assistants Recognition Week is by making sure you’re doing everything you can to help with infection prevention and control in your dental office. Assistants shouldn’t be the only ones shouldering the burden.
And then, say “thank you.” Maybe when it’s safe to do so, take your dental assistants out or hold a celebration in the office.
It doesn’t take a pandemic to prove dental practices simply could not run without dental assistants. So, from all of us at HuFriedyGroup to all our dedicated dental assistant friends, we salute you!