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Helping Hands: The True Value of Dental Assistants

Helping Hands: The True Value of Dental Assistants

Do you ever wish you had two extra hands? Or maybe, instead of being a monster, you just had someone to jump in right when you needed them; like when you are working on a car, trying to change a diaper, or carrying in groceries.

Having the help of a well-trained pediatric dental assistant is akin to having the powers of the Hundred-Handed One. We talked to these expert pediatric dentists to gather their opinions about the roles of dental assistants in their practices.

Interviews

Dr Bruce Weiner

Dr. Bruce H. Weiner graduated from the Virginia Military Institute in 1967 and the University of Maryland School of Dentistry in 1971. He served as an Air Force dental officer in Germany from 1971 to 1975 before completing a two-year Pediatric Dental Residency at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Weiner is a Board Certified Diplomate of the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry and serves on the Continuing Education Committee and the Board of Directors for the AAPD. He has taught at Baylor College of Dentistry and has given local, national and international presentations for dental and medical groups. He currently works with Fort Worth Pediatric Dentistry.

  • What traits do you look for in a pediatric dental assistant?

Dr. Weiner: A pediatric dental assistant should smile a lot, have enthusiasm and warmth, and love kids. The dental assisting skills can be taught. Experience is nice to have, but it’s not the primary focus when we hire. If they have the right demeanor, and aptitude, and they learn quickly and easily…they need to be good communicators. How they deal with conflict is important. What we are looking for is people who are unafraid to express themselves.

  • Do pediatric dental assistants have a big impact on case acceptance?

Dr. Weiner: Absolutely. No question. They are there chairside, and the doctor can explain everything to the parents and they will smile and nod, and then when he leaves they will turn to the dental assistant and ask, “ What did he say?” It’s really up to the assistant to sit down with that parent and clarify everything for us, and they often present the case on our behalf. They are the arm of the doctor at all times.

  • What is the turnover like for dental assistants, in your experience?

Dr. Weiner: We have very low turnover, basically only during change of life events such as the birth of a child, marriage, etc. Some change roles within the practice. Most offices are very flexible in creating part-time employees, especially for a good staff member. If she is doing a good job and needs to take a break for a while to raise small children, she might fill in and work part time when the office is short staffed, and she can come back when the time is right. We develop a sense of family in the office.

  • What advice would you give to aspiring pediatric dental assistants?

Dr. Weiner: Present as positive an image as you can to the children you’re seeing in the office. We rely on your enthusiasm. The kids come to your office, and it’s like buying tickets to the circus. It’s a performance. You have to give the very best performance when they come to see you so that they feel like they had a good time at the circus. They have to empathize and help them through their anxieties.

  • If a relative from a different state were to ask you the simplest way to evaluate a dentist, what would be the simplest way to see if they are any good?

Dr. Weiner: Checking online has become a way of life and dentists and other providers have had to learn how to accept that. The wave of the 21st century is to look at online reviews and certainly social media sites.

What gives people a positive review in healthcare is the quality of their bedside manner, rather than the quality of the work. It’s how we relate to people and the relationships we build with them that will allow for continuing relationships built around trust.

 

Dr Flavia Lamberghini

Dr. Flavia Lamberghini works as a Clinical Assistant Professor at the UIC Pediatric Dentist Postgraduate Program. She is also the director of Apple Dental Care, a state-of-the-art pediatric dental clinic in Chicago. She holds a master’s in Public Health and a master’s in Oral Sciences from the University of Illinois At Chicago. She provides preventative dental care to more than 60 CPS schools across the city and teaches continuing education courses to dental assistants.

 

  • What tasks are delegated to dental assistants from the doctor?

Dr. Lamberghini: Each state regulates their own dental assistants. What they can do varies from place to place. If they move across state lines they will need to work on continuing education to get up to date with local regulations.

  • Does the attitude and behavior of the pediatric dental assistant affect case acceptance?

Dr. Lamberghini: Yes, of course. It is vital that they can communicate. It goes to the   basis of education. The parents don’t know; they (dental assistants) need to educate the kids and the parents. The dental assistant can act as a liaison to communicate the treatment.

  • How do dentists evaluate their pediatric dental assistants?

Dr. Lamberghini: It’s mainly their behavior and their education. We need to emphasize it to their parents. Professional, trustworthy, very good in their skillset. Pediatric dental assistants have to be fast, because children won’t sit still, and they are often scared. They have to be good, so they can be fast and accurate. They have to blend into their office culture. We look to make sure they have the right friendly attitude toward parents and kids.

  • What kind of new job opportunities present themselves for dental assistants?

Dr. Lamborghini: Many senior dental assistants become office managers, and some take on additive roles within the practice for specialized jobs, whether with education, office work, or supply. There are lots of roles they can expand into.

  • If a relative from a different state were to ask you the simplest way to evaluate a dentist, what would be the simplest way to see if they are any good?

Dr. Lamberghini: X rays reveal the quality of their jobs. Interpersonal skills are important, but technique is easily judged with x rays.

Be the Glue That Holds the Practice Together

The great thing about dental assisting is that every practice will be a little different; no experience will be exactly the same. Pediatric dental assistants are the infantry of the dental practice, and every dentist will agree that they are a valuable asset to their team.

~ Dr. Rhea Haugseth