Practice Systems

Habits of a Highly Effective Dental Assistant

Improve Efficiency & Reduce Stress

A highly effective dental assistant contributes to the overall efficiency of the practice while reducing stress for the Doctor and team. Developing a “clinic vision” is critical for success. Doctors and dental hygienists tend to work with a focus on their own schedule; the dental assistant monitors everyone’s schedule. They are able to direct the Doctor to the appropriate operatory at convenient times for exams while utilizing the skills of the hygienist to keep the restorative schedule on track. This skill goes beyond completing a set of tasks throughout the day, it incorporates ongoing critical thinking skills. While individual states mandate specific tasks dental assistants are allowed to perform, all dental assistants can incorporate the following habits that will contribute to positive work culture.


  1. Expand Skills to the Maximum Allowed Under State Law
    It is ineffective for a Dentist to perform a task that could be completed by a dental assistant. Review procedures that can be performed by a dental auxiliary and maximize those opportunities. Job satisfaction will increase for the dental assistant while time is afforded the Dentist to complete other tasks, such as recare exams. A highly effective assistant recognizes weak areas and seeks mentoring from the Dentist or outside training opportunities for improvement. To be highly effective, the dental assistant must master his/her technical skills.
  2. Remain Highly Organized
    There is no greater waste of time in a busy clinic than the time spent trying to find a material, instrument, curing light, or sensor. Use a lean principle to dictate a designated place for everything. Returning items to their proper place after use is a hallmark of organizational skills. A high level of organization incorporates premade procedure trays, material tubs, cassettes, and an inventory tag system for supplies. Time spent organizing will be saved throughout the day as measured by reduced stress and smooth appointments. Effective dental assistants plan in advance for each procedure, eliminating the need for them to leave the patient to find something.
  3. Develop a Clinic Vision
    Some dental assistants call this “directing traffic.” When dental assistants master this skill the rest of the clinical team can focus on the patient in their chair and feel confident the dental assistant will direct the Doctor to complete exams at appropriate times. When states allow, the dental assistant can also direct the hygienist to provide anesthetic to keep the restorative schedule on time. Hygienists must be willing to let the Doctor interrupt during their procedure to provide an exam at a time that works for the entire clinic. The dental assistant monitors emergencies added to the schedule and makes sure pre-scheduled patients take priority. They communicate readily and frequently with the rest of the team throughout the day.
  4. Understand How Long Procedures Take
    Scheduling the correct amount of time for procedures is critical. A general scheduling guideline should be in place for the front office team, however, the dental assistant should be the point person when timing questions arise.
  5. Huddle the Schedule 2-3 Days in Advance
    Identifying scheduling challenges 2-3 days in advance allows time for correction. It also provides time to track down lab cases and necessary special materials. At the morning huddle, the assistant identifies proper times to schedule day-of emergencies.
  6. Provide Thorough Transitions from the Clinic to the Administrative Area
    The final impression the patient takes away from their dental visit occurs at the end of the appointment. Provide a recap at the front desk that summarizes the treatment provided and the next steps. The recap is designed to benefit the patient and help the front desk team member know what to schedule next. This transition should be a comfortable habit as it is performed numerous times each day.



Daily Organizational Tips

  • Keep an overflow op set up with a basic exam tray.
  • Track lab cases in the practice management software to save time.
  • Review all information for each patient prior to the morning huddle.
  • If treatment changes chairside, stop, and prepare a new estimate to avoid financial surprises.
  • Identify the need for digital images for treatment and insurance purposes.
  • Assist according to basic concepts of four-handed dentistry and the principles of motion economy.
  • Keep the workplace organized, returning items to the proper place immediately after use.
  • Enter treatment notes, lab prescriptions, and newly proposed treatment at the end of each appointment to avoid the potential to forget information.
  • Complete post-treatment chairside to allow for accurate patient collections.
  • Provide written and verbal post-op instructions. Reduce emergency calls by letting the patient know what they should expect from a comfort standpoint. Refer them to your website if you have post-op information available.
  • Maintain sterilization flow.
  • Train the hygienists to allow a periodontal charting and exam to take place at the time designated by the assistant.
  • Continually monitor the schedule and offer assistance as needed.
  • Communicate frequently with the front office when the schedule runs behind to prevent further scheduling complications or emergency add-ins at an inappropriate time.
  • Seat emergency patients and let them know the Doctor will be fitting them in the schedule today, but there may be a wait. Offer a beverage or access to watch a TV, if available. This reduces the temptation to inconvenience previously scheduled patients.
  • Make post-op calls early in the day to allow time for the Doctor to return a call, if necessary.
  • Review unscheduled treatment plans and assist the front office with the recare system, when time allows.




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