Role of the Dental Assistant
What Dental Assistants Do?
Dental assistants perform many tasks, ranging from patient care and taking x rays to record-keeping and scheduling appointments. Their duties vary by state and by the dentists offices where they work.
Dental assistants typically do the following:
- Take and record vital signs
- Assist with oral examinations
- Prepare tray set-ups for oral procedures
- Prepare patients and operatories for dental procedures
- Expose digital radiographs and film, and perform x-ray processing
- Help dentists by transferring instruments during procedures, such as fillings, crown preparations, and tooth extractions
- Provide better visibility for dentists by using suction and other equipment
- Take impressions and pour up models
- Provide post-operative instructions as prescribed by the dentist
- Provide patient prevention education
- Maintain accurate patient treatment records
- Schedule patient appointments
- Work with patients on billing and payment
- Manage infection and hazard control protocol
- Identify and respond to medical and dental emergencies
Under the direction of the dentist, qualified dental assistants are allowed to perform the following procedures in Oregon:
- Coronal polishing the surface of teeth
- Apply dental sealants and fluoride
- Fabricate and cement temporary crowns
- Place temporary restorative material
- Place retraction cord
- Place and remove matrix retainers
- Polish silver fillings
- Perform tooth whitening procedures
Coronal polishing, which means removing soft deposits such as plaque, gives teeth a cleaner appearance. In sealant application, a dental assistant paints a thin, plastic substance over teeth that seals out food particles and acid-producing bacteria to keep teeth from developing cavities. Fluoride application, in which fluoride is put directly on the teeth, is another anti-cavity measure.
Each state regulates the scope of practice for dental assistants.
Modified from Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-2017 Edition, Dental Assistants, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-assistants.htm (visited May 24, 2016).