Michelle Schooley has always had a slight obsession with teeth, due to having teeth problems throughout her life. So when a friend raved about how much she loved being a dental assistant, that was all the motivation Michelle needed to enroll in a dental-assisting program during her senior year in high school. She completed the technical program and started her career as a certified dental assistant in 1996.
Michelle soon discovered that being a dental assistant was very busy and demanding work, and she loved it. Her favorite part of the job is the lack of monotony: "There's always a different tooth, a different patient. You have the same procedures, but it's always a different task," she said.
A typical day
The dental assistant begins each day arriving at work about 30 to 45 minutes early, to stock and prep everything for the day. Dental assistants must make sure that each room is prepared, and that charts, X-rays, and necessary procedural materials, such as bonding agents, are ready. Michelle says there are about 20 things to prepare for each patient and procedure, including bringing the patient to the room, seating them, and putting on their bib. These steps have to be repeated for every patient throughout the day, and oftentimes there are multiple patients being seen simultaneously in different rooms.
Once the room is prepared and the patient is seated, the dental assistant has to inform the dentist that the patient is ready. The assistant then helps the dentist through each step of the procedure. Dental assistants hold the patient's tongue and cheeks back while the dentist works. They rinse the patient's mouth and suction out extra saliva. They provide the dentist with materials as needed. And they help record notes on the patient's chart. Afterward, they have to clean the room and get ready for the next patient.
In addition to preparing for and assisting with procedures, dental assistants often help the front desk staff by calling patients to confirm appointments. They even help send out those friendly reminder cards that we all get in the mail every six months. Dental assistants also help the dental hygienists with developing X-rays and bringing them clean instruments. In fact, dental assistants are responsible for sterilizing instruments for the entire office. They also have to order supplies and make sure the office is fully stocked.
Always on the go
Needless to say, it's never a dull day in the office. Michelle says that dental assistants rarely sit down. "In school they teach you to sit down," she said, "but you always have to run around and do things for the doctor, so it's just easier to stay standing." Though she enjoys the constant motion of the job, she does admit it can get stressful running around and doing five things at a time all day long.
And then there are the crazy stories. Michelle said she once caught a teenager who was trying to increase his intake on the nitrous oxide tank. She also has seen older dental assistants who were not wearing any gloves. Of course, Michelle properly addressed these situations, being the professional that she is.
Michelle loves the dental care field so much that she recently became a registered dental hygienist. However, she still wears the dental assistant hat sometimes, too. The duties of a dental assistant let her stay busy, while also allowing her to fulfill that long-time obsession with teeth!