A Day in the Life of a Dental Assistant

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Dental Assistants are busy healthcare professionals with many responsibilities. From handling the front office, to taking care of patients and being chairside assistant the dentist, you need to be pleasant, motivated, on-task, and knowledgeable about the dental practice. Do you have what it takes? Check out a typical day as you consider whether the rewarding career of a Dental Assistant is right for you. 

6:30 a.m. -Get Ready for Your Dental Assisting Job 

Rise and shine! An early start to the day can give you plenty of time to wake up, shower, eat breakfast and prepare for the day ahead. Get the kids ready for school, make your lunch, or just check your phone and email for important messages before you head out the door.  

7:30 a.m. -Arrive at the Dental Practice  

Almost all Dental Assistants work full time in dental offices. The practice you work at may offer evening hours, but generally you can expect to start your day early. Arrive at work about 30 minutes before opening. After all, it’s your job to make sure everything is ready for that first patient. Tidy the waiting room, check patient appointments, listen to phone messages, and check emails. Did anyone cancel for today? Does anyone need to be seen right away? You’re running the show when it comes to scheduling so make sure to pay attention to the details. 

On the clinical side, you need to prepare exam rooms. Simply tidying up doesn’t work when it comes to patient safety. Make sure all the dental tools are sterile and properly stored. All surfaces need to be clean, clear, and sterile to prevent infections. And first thing in the morning, you may attend a team huddle that sets the tone for the day.  

8 a.m. -Open the Dental Office  

It’s time to unlock the doors and welcome the day’s patients! As they arrive, greet each one with a friendly smile and positive attitude. Some patients may be nervous about their visit and it’s up to you to reassure them. Ask each patient to update their medical and contact information and find out if there’s anything that’s changed since they made the appointment. As you call patients to the exam room, explain what they can expect from the dentist so they can feel more at ease.  

8:30 a.m. -Prep the Patients  

Depending on what procedure a patient is having, an appointment can take from 30 minutes to an hour. But before the dentist can get to their work, you need to do yours. Let’s say your first patient is in to have a cavity filled. Bring the patient to the exam room and help them settle into the chair. Place a paper bib around their neck and ask if there are any issues since their last checkup. Take down the information and update their patient record. Has the dentist instructed you to take a dental X-ray? Make sure to carefully follow safety protocol and tips to take the best X-rays possible and complete the X-ray before the dentist enters the exam room. 

9:30 a.m. -Check in Another Patient 

Some dental practices are so busy that you’ll have a steady flow of patients all day long. Before the next patient comes in, you sterilize the equipment and surfaces to prepare the room for them. Your second patient just needs a cleaning. It’s great when not all patients have the same exact procedure. Do you like to be busy and useful, while meeting all kinds of people? This could be the career for you!  

10:00 a.m. -Oversee the Dental Office Front Desk 

In between patients, you might find yourself back at the front desk. There, you answer phone calls, schedule appointments, and update medical records. You may need to inventory supplies and connect with vendors. Or confirm dental coverage with insurance providers. If another Dental Assistant works in the office, you might switch between front desk and exam room duties throughout the day. You might also assist the dental hygienist when they provide screenings, sealants, or fluoride treatments. 

11:00 a.m. -Teach Good Dental Hygiene  

After the dentist has finished with a patient, you get to educate the patient about proper oral hygiene. You might use a fake set of teeth to demonstrate how to properly brush and floss or explain how oral hygiene can impact overall health. You answer questions or refer them to the dentist. And then you show them out of the exam room.  

11:30 a.m. -Take a Lunch Break 

After a busy morning, it’s time to refuel. Your office might close down for lunch, but if not, be sure to set up a lunch schedule with the rest of the staff that staggers breaks so that the office is always covered. And don’t forget to keep the calendar clear for the dentist—you wouldn’t want to schedule appointments during their lunch break.  

12:30 p.m. -Assist with a Root Canal 

Next patient is in for a root canal. More complicated than a cleaning, checkup, or cavity, a root canal takes longer. Some dentists actually specialize in the procedure and Dental Assistants can also choose a specialty. You might work in a general practice or one that does orthodontics—putting braces on teeth—or cosmetic dentistry. You may also find a practice that treats kids in pediatric dentistry or one that focuses on elders. What would be your interest?  

2:00 p.m. -Rotate Through Patients  

For the rest of the afternoon, you might rotate through several more patients, helping the dental team provide cleanings, fillings, and more X-rays. You might also go back and forth between the front office and exam room as new patients come in.  

3:30 p.m. -Wrap Up the Day  

During the last hour of the day, you can start to wind down and wrap up. Before you leave, check email again and send out appointment reminders to patients. Look through the office inventory and be sure all supplies are well stocked. Order more if necessary. Be sure that all patient records are updated and coded accurately, and that all insurance forms are filled out and claims submitted.  

If you want a job that keeps you busy and allows you to make a difference in the lives of others, then dental assisting might be the right career path for you. At Charter College, we offer a Certificate in Dental Assisting that can prepare you for entry-level work in the field. The program can be completed in as few as 10 months and is offered in a blended learning format that couples online and hands-on instruction. Call 888-200-9942 or fill out the form to learn more.