A Day in the Life of a Dental Assistant
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Interview with a Dental Assistant

May 17, 2013

BY: Rob Sabo

Aimee Gaspari has 20 years experience working as a dental assistant, and she now works for a dental temp agency on an on-call basis. Gaspari also is the dental assisting program director at a career institute, a position she's held since 2007. Her qualifications include:

  • Certified Dental Assistant through the Dental Assisting National Board, and Extended Functions Dental Assistant license through the Pennsylvania State Board of Dentistry
  • Dental Assisting Diploma through Yorktowne Business Institute in York, Penn.

Q. What kind of training did you have to do to become a dental assistant?

A. The education typically is split between didactic and clinical applications. During school I had a hands-on portion and also a normal classroom setting -- that was all that was required for me to get a dental assisting position. The role of a dental assistant is so hands-on. There's nothing we do that isn't hands-on, so that aspect is included in most of the dental assisting schools. We learned theory and principles, and then we learned how to actually do it.

Some of the training involved was learning how to communicate and interact with patients. We learned how to deal with patients that were timid or afraid of going to the dentist as well as patients with special challenges, such as being either deaf or blind. There definitely is a specific way to make patients feel comfortable.

Some of the hands-on training included radiology because that is a big part of it. We did radiographs on patients, both intra-oral and extra-oral. We took impressions to make dentures, crowns, bridges or other orthodontic work. Mostly it was working with dentists on normal restorative procedures.

Q. How do you spend most of your day?

A. Most of my day is spent chair-side with patients. I gather data and information from them either by reading their charts or by taking X-rays. I also take patients' blood pressures -- there's actual training in how to take them during the clinical education. As an extended functions dental assistant, sometimes I am assisting in dental procedures, but I also play a role in placing restorations on patients. Mostly it is working right alongside the dentist, but there's also OSHA compliance, such as maintaining infection control, and other routine aspects of working in a dental office.

Q. What trends or new technology have you recently seen in the dentistry field/office?

A. The advance of digital radiology and the new system for making crowns, bridges and fixed prosthetics. We use a Cerec dental CAD/CAM machine -- the technology is using a camera to take an impression of the crown. It is such a benefit for the patients. It cuts down on the time they are waiting for a crown. Instead of a temporary, they get the permanent piece that day.

Q. What skill sets are you building at your current role?

A. Currently I am working on going back for my master's in education. I want to move to the development side of things. I also am taking some business classes to work toward a front-office management role. I am looking at getting front desk practice management certification.

Q. Describe your most challenging patient interaction. How did you handle it?

A. My most challenging patient was definitely an elderly woman who had Alzheimer's disease. She was typically very happy-go-lucky, but she was in the very last stages of Alzheimer's and couldn't communicate to us what was going on. We were trying to gather information from the nursing home and from her daughter. The patient wasn't eating, so we assumed that something might be was wrong orally.

We were trying to establish what was wrong without having a lot of information. We did a series of diagnostic exams to try and figure out if she needed to go to a medical doctor. Eventually we found there was nothing orally wrong with her. But it was one of the most challenging and difficult patients we ever had. It was also challenging physically, because she wouldn't open her mouth, and she couldn't communicate with us.

Please note: This interview does not represent the opinions of Healthcare Colleges, and job responsibilities and opportunities in this career may vary.