How To Be a Better Dental Assistant: Definition and Tips

Updated June 24, 2022

Dental assistants are an integral part of the dental team at most offices, and it can be helpful to review dental assistant tips for how to improve. A dental assistant works with patients and colleagues every day and usually attempts to provide a positive experience for all.

Learning to improve as a dental assistant can allow you to grow your career, take on advanced responsibilities and positively affect your professional relationships. In this article, we explain what a dental assistant is, what a dental assistant does, how to become a better dental assistant and tips for improving dental assistant skills.

What is a dental assistant?

A dental assistant is a trained professional that assists dentists in their work. This might include scheduling appointments, helping with procedures and recording patient notes. A dental assistant receives their education through a community college or vocational college, and it usually takes between six and 11 months. In school, future dental assistants learn about topics related to dental work including biology, anatomy and physiology, dental radiology and dental science.

Related: What Is a Dental Assistant? Average Salary, Requirements and How To Become a Dental Assistant

What does a dental assistant do?

A dental assistant has a variety of administrative and dental tasks to do throughout each day. These tasks may vary day to day, depending on the office's schedule and the patients that the dentist sees. Some days may require more administrative and computer work, while other days will require the dental assistant to assist with more procedures. Here are some common duties of a dental assistant:

  • Scheduling patient appointments

  • Preparing patients for a procedure

  • Sterilizing the dental instruments

  • Setting up any necessary equipment before a procedure

  • Handing dental instruments to the dentist during a procedure

  • Making sure patients are comfortable

  • Assisting the dentist with keeping the patient's mouth dry using suction and other equipment

  • Processing x-rays and other labs for the dentist

  • Keeping records of patient's visits and treatment plan

  • Advising patients on good dental hygiene

Related: Dental Assisting Interview Questions and Example Answers

How to become a better dental assistant

Here are some ways you can improve yourself as a dental assistant:

1. Communicate well

Communication is a key part of your work as a dental assistant, so learning to communicate well can improve your abilities as a dental assistant. Throughout your day, you likely communicate with patients, the dentists you assist and other support staff, so it's also helpful to understand how to communicate with each of those groups. Good communication includes being able to speak or write what you mean effectively, as well as knowing how to listen to what others are saying.

In a day, you might need to interpret how a patient injured their tooth so you can report what's being said to the dentist, communicate with the dentist as they perform a procedure to be sure you're helping as needed and advise a dental hygienist regarding what a dentist has said a patient needs to have done. You may also need to record accurate notes on each patient you assist with based on your observations and what the dentist says, so that other staff understand what is going on.

Related: 7 Tips for Improving Communication Skills

2. Be proactive

There are many ways you can be proactive throughout your workday and doing so can show you are a dedicated and attentive dental assistant. Being proactive requires attention to detail and an awareness of the needs of those around you, which are important skills for a dental assistant.

For instance, if a dentist you work with prefers certain types of instruments set up for a specific procedure in a way that works best with their workflow, by being aware of that and setting the instruments up accordingly without being asked, you show you are aware of their needs and processes.

3. Collaborate better

A dental assistant is one part of a larger dental team in dental offices. Depending on the size of the office, you may work with multiple dentists, other dental assistants, dental hygienists and administrative support staff like office managers and receptionists. The work you do as a dental assistant often affects the other members of the team, so it's important that you prioritize good collaboration.

One of the most important aspects of better collaboration is to be receptive to the ideas of others on the team. If you rotate between working with multiple dentists and there are other dental assistants on the team, you could work with them to get a better understanding of each dentist's preferences. That way, if all the dental assistants share information, you are all performing better.

4. Have a plan

Like most other careers, being a dental assistant requires some planning if you have ambitions for where your career should go in the future. The most successful dental assistants know where they want their career to go and what they need to do to get there. This might mean advanced certification, continuing education or networking opportunities. It can be helpful if you consider what type of work you'd like to be doing in the future and how you can learn new skills to get you there.

Additionally, since technology and advances in knowledge can change dental procedures and policies, it's a good idea to expect that and plan to update your knowledge regularly so you are aware of the most modern approaches and technologies. To do this, you might want to take a class, join a professional organization or collaborate with your coworkers to learn new skills.

5. Care for yourself

Being a dental assistant often means standing for long periods of time and walking a lot between exam rooms and other parts of the office, along with other physical demands. Among other reasons, this is why self-care is important for dental assistants.

You want to be ready for each workday by being alert, organized and ready to help. Self-care can help you with these things—as if you're making sure you're getting enough rest and taking care of yourself—you are generally better able to be productive at work.

Caring for yourself also includes caring for your own career. That means having a plan, as mentioned above, and being aware of what is important to you at work. Caring for yourself in all ways allows you to be a better employee and team member, in addition to the personal benefits.

6. Ask for feedback

One of the best ways to grow and improve as a dental assistant is to ask for feedback from those you work with. This might mean the dentists you support, the patients you treat or the other coworkers you collaborate with. You could do this formally through patient comment cards, but often it can happen organically through conversation.

Some ways to ask for feedback that can improve your work performance include asking the dentists you work with if there's anything different you can do to be helpful, asking patients how to improve the experience for them and asking your other coworkers how best to collaborate with them. It's important to remember, however, that taking feedback and using it is the key. If you take feedback but don't incorporate it into your work, it doesn't help you improve.

Tips for improving dental assistant skills

Here are some ways you can improve your dental assistant skills:

  • Learn how to practice active listening, where you listen carefully to what's being said and clarify to be sure you understand.

  • Have a positive attitude towards learning and don't take criticism too personally.

  • Work on your organizational skills by learning ways to get organized and stay organized at work.

  • Research options for where you want your career to go and to discover if there are educational programs you can enroll in.

  • Maintain a professional appearance by dressing appropriately and behaving appropriately at the office every day, as that will help patients trust you more.

  • Take classes, read books and review online information about skills related to your career.


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