What’s it like for dental assistants to work in the dental office right now?
This is one of the questions asked of dental assistants as part of an October 2020 survey from the Dental Assisting National Board, to gain a glimpse into their work experiences during the pandemic.
Overall, as you might imagine, it seems that working in the dental office definitely feels different than it did before March 2020.
You might even say, as one dental assistant respondent tells us through the survey, “COVID changed everything.”
But despite all the changes the pandemic has brought to the dental profession, dental assisting remains an essential role. Plus, dental assistants still are in demand, with open positions available in dental offices across the country.
Whether you’re currently working as a dental assistant or are preparing to return to the dental office in the future, it’s important to know what to expect while working during this time. Below, we outline some key insights from the survey.
Taking Extra Precautions
Through dental assistants’ survey responses, we’ve learned that for many, workdays now start with temperature checks as part of COVID-19 screenings for all staff and patients.
“There are additional precautionary measures,” elaborates one surveyed dental assistant, who specifically mentions this temperature-check addition to the daily routine.
Survey respondents also cite other new screening protocols such as prescreening of patients by phone and screening of patients upon their arrival to the dental office.
Additionally, dental staff, including assistants, are disinfecting and cleaning the office more than ever — “increased janitorial duties,” as one surveyed dental assistant put it — plus wearing additional personal protective equipment (PPE) required under COVID-19 protocols as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Being duly diligent regarding infection control and CDC guidelines and protocols are an even bigger part of the job now,” one dental assistant survey respondent says.
Another dental assistant describes their new normal: “We wear extra PPE, including head covering, a face shield, masks, and disposable jackets. Patients must call from their cars upon arrival, must wear face masks and come alone if possible, plus fill out the COVID screening form and have their temperature taken before being seated. Employees also have a temperature check done upon arrival to their shift, and everything is recorded daily, and patient forms are scanned into each patient’s account.”
“We’re wearing N95 masks all day, as well as face shields and gowns, and my workplace won’t let us have any items in our rooms, including extra gloves,” adds another. “This makes our room setup difficult, especially if you forget or need something extra, as we can’t leave the room once we start an aerosol procedure. This makes it extremely safe for patients, but difficult for an assistant to work.”
What’s more, dental assistants expressed that sometimes PPE is difficult to find, which can complicate the task of keeping them in stock. “I do the ordering, and initially, getting the proper PPE was very hard,” one person tells us. Another cites shortages of PPE as being stressful.
While taking extra precautions may be challenging, dental assistants agree they’re absolutely critical to keep everyone safe. “My employer is going over the top with precautions, compared to what I’m hearing from colleagues in my area, which helps me to feel protected and that I’m protecting the patients,” one dental assistant notes. “But it is exhausting and sometimes irritates the patients.”
Experiencing Extra-Busy Days with Fewer Colleagues
Dental assistants also report that their workdays are extremely busy now. In fact, since the pandemic began, approximately 65% of dental assistant survey respondents say they have been asked to perform new or additional duties at work.
How come? Survey results indicate about a third of dental assistant respondents perceive that their practices are experiencing a higher patient volume, while others report operating with a reduction in dental assistants on staff.
“I’ve been picking up the slack because there are not enough assistants [in my office],” one surveyed dental assistant comments.
In fact, about 33% of dental assistant survey respondents said their practice had a reduction in dental assistants since COVID-19, and of those, 74% say the number of dental assistants in the practice is still lower than normal. When asked why this is, a little more than half of the respondents say there seems to be hesitation about returning to the dental office again following temporary closures caused by the pandemic.
In fact, “many have chosen to leave the field,” observes one surveyed dental assistant. Another adds: “One assistant retired and wasn’t replaced.”
Or, “they are staying home and helping their children with online school,” one dental assistant tells us.
More Challenging, but also More Rewarding
Despite the changes that dental assistants have been navigating in recent months, one thing remains the same.
Dental assistants continue to embrace their underlying purpose, which is providing care for patients in need.
As one surveyed dental assistant says: “Honestly, just wearing all the extra gear sometimes feels like a lot, but I also always keep in mind that it is keeping me and my patients safe. That is the main goal, and taking care of people is my job, so I really try not to complain.”
Another agrees that during this difficult time especially, they appreciate the understanding and empathy shown by both colleagues and patients.
“There has definitely been a division in how everyone feels about the pandemic. But the humanity that has been shown by some has been refreshing.”
What does your workday look like now? Let us know.