In this digital day and age, technology has shifted the way many people work. With the ability to connect with colleagues and customers using phones and computers comes the flexibility for some employees to work remotely from anywhere — especially now, amid the COVID-19 concerns that have been prevalent over the past six months.
While remote working may be feasible for some, this isn’t the case for chairside dental assistants. Simply, your presence in the dental office can’t be replicated through technology, easily automated, or done as successfully virtually. Below are three key reasons why dental assistants are, in a word, irreplaceable.
1. Delivering Patient Care with a Smile
Dental assistants likely will agree that the human connection with patients is the cornerstone of their role. In fact, your ability to provide excellent patient care is one of your most valuable contributions to the dental office. Consider that one of the top qualities required of a successful dental assistant is having good patient care skills, according to the DALE Foundation’s Value of Dental Assistants to the Dental Practice research findings.
For dental assistants, providing comfort and reassurance to patients is best done in person. Dental assistants are dedicated to providing top-notch patient care, offering patients a smile, a cup of coffee or a blanket, as well as ultimately earning their trust and confidence. How can this be done from afar?
Realistically, it can’t be. Dental assistant educator Shannon S. agrees, “With dentistry, there’s a human component that you can’t eliminate.”
2. Ensuring Patient Safety and Comfort
It’s probably well known that dental assistants play a critical role in infection prevention and control in the dental office. And it perhaps goes without saying that sterilization and disinfection duties — often delegated to dental assistants in the office — must be done in-person to keep patients and providers safe.
Since the emergence of the pandemic, dental assistants also have a hand in implementing new social distancing and infection control policies in the office, as well as communicating them to patients. While it’s possible for a summary of precautions to be emailed or posted online for patients’ reference, having a conversation about these changes with a friendly face can go a long way in helping patients accept the dentist-recommended treatment plan and ultimately quelling any anxiety they may have. Dental assistants are typically a source of comfort and information, and this is true perhaps now more than ever. This is a responsibility that dental assistants don’t take lightly.
“Sometimes, patients are anxious,” acknowledges Cheryl B. “The best part of my job is making sure they are feeling safe.”
3. Cultivating a Strong Patient Connection Over Time
Just as it’s important for a remote worker’s internet connection to be reliable for online tasks to be completed, it’s equally critical that a patient’s connection with the dental team is strong. When patients have established a positive relationship with the dental team, they’re more likely to go to their appointment in the first place and stay with that team’s dental office long-term.
As many dental assistants know, forging a lasting bond with patients starts with making a positive first impression — one that that is cultivated over time, over the course of many in-person appointments.
Former dental assistant Carol A., CDA-Emeritus, shared that she often finds herself talking with people in the community whom she met while working as a dental assistant. “I’ve been retired for a few years, but I’m still surprised when I’m out and about running errands and someone will say, ‘Hi, Carol, remember me?’” she says. “They say they haven’t forgotten how well I treated them in the dental office.”
Elizabeth M. agrees that becoming acquainted with patients is one of the top rewards of her dental assisting role. This involves being able to read people and understand what they need to help them feel more secure at the dental office. “We know our patients,” she says. “That’s the beautiful part of the job. And I love ‘reading’ my new patients. It brings me joy to make everyone comfortable.”
It’s true: Dental assistants’ in-person contributions make them irreplaceable in the practice and invaluable to the patient’s dental appointment experience.
Jennifer J. acknowledges that dental assistants are facing more challenges due to COVID-19 — but she’s up for the task, all to benefit her patients. “Since I’m wearing a face mask, my patients might not be able to see my smile, but they can sense it,” says Jennifer. “Patients need us in the dental office, especially now.”