New Beginnings as a Dental Assistant

Jan. 29, 2008
Linda Miles talks about the ever-expanding role of the dental assistant.

New Beginnings. What an appropriate title for the changing role of the assistant in today's dental world. Whether a chairside assistant or a business assistant (more often referred to as the scheduling or financial coordinator), the new beginnings for dental assistants are exciting. We survived OSHA and HIPAA, and who knows what's next? Dental assistants are no longer just bib-changers and receptionists. We are knowledgeable, well-trained professionals who learn something new and tackle it every day in our practices. Defining job descriptions for assistants, as well as improving their communication skills and professionalism, has been interesting for many consulting firms. Our duties are now blended to meet the changes of technology integration, improved techniques and materials, and improved utilization that requires cross training.

The biggest obstacles to practice growth are keeping up with the busy patient flow, and having the time to devote to the all-important in-office training sessions that should be ongoing for maximum practice efficiency. SECRET: Practices that schedule the two least productive hours of their week, not including lunch, for in-house training and meetings are growing and thriving. It takes less time to do something right than it does to do over. Feeling competent and confident is the key to enjoying one's career. Since communication is the foundation of the clinical and business sides of the success triangle, continuous role-play sessions with the entire team are a must. Getting a dentist to commit to these two hours of non-patient time can be difficult. Some dentists say, "That would be a day of lost production per month." I remind them that it is more like adding five days of production when the office gets organized and stays that way.

Week one should be designated for "health of the practice" staff meetings. It should be a time for each member of the team (including the dentist) to give his or her three-minute personal progress report to the entire office. Team members should talk about what they have personally done to make the practice better in the past month. Each person should compile the three statistics that are most pertinent to monitoring their success. The financial coordinator may report on the number of statements that were sent and the number of collection calls made last month. The clinical assistants may report on the percentage of overhead spent on dental supplies last month. Another clinical report may be the number of units of crowns, implants, veneers, or cosmetic whitening cases.

The two hours per week of non-patient time in weeks two and four should be designated as "organizational time." Every person has a list of the duties they must perform that can't be done during patient hours, such as tearing down the treatment rooms from floor to ceiling to clean and restock twice a month. This is also a time to organize the sterilization areas, inventory closets and the lab, or meet with sales reps. The dentist needs this time twice per month to clear off his or her desk, make non-urgent phone calls, and work ON his or her business, not IN it! This would also prevent the dentist from staying late, coming in on weekends, or carrying work home every evening. Business staff need this time to make past due account calls, re-file insurance claims that need individual consideration letters, and correspond with specialists. Hygienists need the time to work on patient reactivation, organize the recare system, sharpen instruments and do other projects that require their expertise.

Week three is probably the most overlooked, yet most important of all of the non-patient time. It is time for four half-hour table clinics given by the dentist(s), hygienists, clinical assistants and business staff. These monthly in-house training sessions assure that everyone is on the same page with the dental services provided, and more importantly, exactly how these services are done and each person's role. It is also a team-building exercise to "teach what you know" to everyone in the office. It instills the leadership mentality in every member of the team, from the senior dentist to the last person hired.

These new beginnings are incredibly exciting to Dr. Rhonda Savage, CEO of LM&A, and me. We started our careers as dental assistants long ago. It is so refreshing for us to meet many of you in our travels and know we have journeyed down the same path. We look forward to being with ALL of you in Norfolk, VA, when we address the PDA Meeting in May 2008.

Belonging to my local, state and national (ADAA) dental assisting organizations changed my life in the '70s. I'm proud to be an Honorary Member of the Virginia Dental Assistants Association (VDAA) and the ADAA. The individuals who choose assisting as a career have made a huge difference in the lives of their patients, the dentists they work with, and the friends they call co-workers. Just think: THIS IS JUST THE BEGINNING!

For a complimentary copy of the recommended table-clinic topics that our client practices use, e-mail me at Linda Miles.

Linda Miles, Founder
Dr. Rhonda Savage, CEO
Linda Miles and Associates
Virginia Beach, VA/Fox Island, WA