5 Important Characteristics of a Dental Assistant
It takes a certain kind of person to excel as a dental assistant.
From instructing patients on oral hygiene and recording treatment information to exposing dental diagnostic x-rays and disinfecting instruments, the job of a dental hygienist tends to attract a person with a certain set of characteristics. Here are five qualities you should have if you want to become a dental assistant.
1.) Empathy and respect
Not many people like going to the dentist. It's uncomfortable for some and downright scary for others, which is why a good dental assistant should be empathetic and respectful toward patients.
According to the Illinois School of Health Careers on dental assistants, "You may encounter patients who are fearful of a trip to the dentist, and in this scenario they will appreciate your kind and understanding approach. You may encounter stubborn patients, or ones who may be particularly trying to work with."
If you can't put yourself in their shoes, you'll lack this important trait of being a dental assistant.
2.) Detail oriented
An attention to detail is a crucial quality of a dental assistant. Without it, you may not thrive.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov), "Dental assistants must follow specific rules and protocols to help dentists treat patients. Assistants must be aware of what practices they are allowed to complete in the state where they work."
One seemingly-minor mistake as a dental assistant, such as not sanitizing equipment in a certain way or not giving patients comprehensive follow-up instructions, may both violate the law and prove detrimental to patients. The details can make all the difference as a dental assistant.
3.) Not easily disgusted
As a dental assistant, you have to apply topical anesthetics, assist dentists up close as they work inside a patient's mouth and much more. This process will sometimes be bloody or slimy. if you get grossed out easily by blood or drool, a dental assistant position may not be for you.
You may not know ahead of time how you'll react, but should get a good idea during dental assistant school if you can handle the dirtier side of the job. It's a crucial characteristic to possess, since it's such a regular part of the job.
4.) Listening skills
Of course, a large number of jobs out there require you to be a good listener. But with being a dental assistant, and many other jobs in the medical field, not listening to someone can be at the expense of a patient's health. And that's not merely hearing what someone says but understanding it and abiding by it appropriately.
According to the BLS, "Dental assistants should be able to listen to patients and other healthcare workers. They need to follow directions from a dentist or dental hygienist, so they can help treat patients and do tasks, such as taking an x ray."
Dental assistants report to dentists. You're not the main boss or the sole employee, making listening a vital trait of being a dental assistant.
5.) Interpersonal skills
Interpersonal skills, defined by Investopedia as "skills used by a person to properly interact with others," are an incredibly important quality to possess if you want to excel in a dental assistant position.
According to the BLS, "Dental assistants must work closely with dentists and patients. Sometimes, patients are in extreme pain and/or mental stress, so the assistant should be sensitive to their emotions."
You may be able to do your job well, from keeping the patients' mouth dry when implementing the suction holes to scheduling their next appointment. But without interpersonal skills, who's going to want to come back to your office? Not only may keeping the patients happy help you keep your job, but it may also make a generally-uncomfortable experience at least slightly better for the patient. That's why interpersonal skills are such an important quality to have as a dental assistant.
If you can empathize, get along, listen, pay attention and not feel like you're going to pass out every time a patient starts to bleed, then you may be on your way to a thriving career as a dental assistant. Beyond knowing how to perform the job's operations, these five traits could make the difference between a good dental assistant and a great one.
“Dental Assistants,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-assistants.htm
“Interpersonal Skills,” Investopedia, Terms, Accessed July 10, 2014, http://www.investopedia.com/terms/i/interpersonal-skills.asp
“3 Characteristics to Ensure Success in Dental Assisting,” Illinois School of Health Careers, Accessed July 10, 2014, http://ishc.edu/dental-assistant/successful-dental-assistants/