Shadowing a Doctor

June 12, 2015

Observing a dental procedure in Kilimanjaro People often mistake dental hygienists for dental assistants and use these two terms interchangeably. It’s not right though. Dental hygienists are distinctly different from dental assistants and they both play different roles within any dental care team.

A dental hygienist specialises in examining and cleaning the teeth and gums. They report the findings to the dentist for further action and also educate patients on the best way to keep teeth and gums healthy and how to prevent cavities and tooth decay.

A dental assistant on the other hand is more concerned with getting the equipment, instruments and the patient ready for the dentist. In addition to preparing the patient and equipment for treatment, a dental assistant may also apply topic anaesthetic, process X-rays and insert or remove materials or equipment from the patients’ mouth as directed by the dentist. Dental assistants may also help dentists during procedures or dental surgery, by applying suction or handing over the instruments rinse.

Detailed Job Description for a Dental Assistant

Dental assistants are responsible for office and laboratory duties in a dentist’s clinic. They may provide some patient care, but exactly what procedures they are allowed to perform may depend on the dentist. Their role may be limited to prepping patients and keeping them comfortable or it could be extended to the application of fluoride and sealants to teeth, taking X-Rays and removing plaque.

Some of the duties of a dental assistant include:

  • Scheduling and following up with patients
  • Organising and maintaining lab equipment
  • Preparing patients for oral examination
  • Assisting dentists and hygienists in providing treatment
  • Properly taking, developing and mounting all radiographs
  • Recording patients’ dental and medical histories and vital signs
  • Providing oral hygiene instructions to the patient.

Education & Training Required

Unlike dental hygienists, there is no officially required associate degree or bachelor’s program for dental assisting. However, there are programs available for those who wish to learn the necessary skills and basic knowledge needed for a career as a dental assistant.

There are three options that you can consider:

  1. A one-year certificate or diploma training programme
  2. A two-year associate’s degree in community or technical college
  3. On-the-job training- many dentists train dental assistants on the job. This training is conducted in the dental clinic.

Benefits To A Career In Dental Assisting

There are several advantages to pursuing a career in dental assisting – you can start earning within 2 years of starting the course, the schedule is fairly regular with no nights or weekends, jobs are plentiful and the job outlook is strong.

Moreover, this acts as a stepping stone for a more advanced career in dentistry. With sufficient experience and continued education you can become a dental-assisting instructor, dental product sales representative or office manager. You can  even choose to go back to school to become a dental hygienist, a role that offers more autonomy and a higher salary. Advanced opportunities are limited without further education.

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Gap Medics provides year-round hospital work experience for people aged 16 and over. Our shadowing placements offer a unique insight into the work of doctors, nurses, midwives and dentists – helping students to focus their career aspirations before embarking upon medical training.