Dental Assistants — A Critical Link in Healthcare Focal Points

Healthcare is in constant change and that includes dental offices. One of the big trends over the last five or so years is the emergence of whole-patient dentistry. This is a philosophy where the dentist looks at the entire patient picture and then addresses changes that benefit the patient's long-term dental health. An example might be to talk with the patient about how to stop smoking, chewing tobacco, or even getting more exercise. The approach is that outside influences impact the quality of everyone's health, including their dental health.

Learning How Dental Assistants Fit into Whole-Patient Dentistry

In traditional dentistry, the dental assistant is a key position that bridges the gap between the patient and the dentist. In the whole-patient model for dental practices, the DA plays an enhanced role that is even more important. While many of the aspects of dental assisting involve treatment, there is an opportunity to further help the dentist address patient health concerns. That role is one of support. 

It is the role of the dentist to address health concerns with the patient. It is the role of the DA to provide the information necessary that makes that delicate task not only possible but also successful. 

The intake of information is key — Quality information helps the dentist spot key issues such as stress, dietary issues, and even social vices such as smoking or recreational drug use. To be successful at collecting data requires that the DA become familiar with topics that are often uncomfortable to discuss, such as drug use. Be willing to broaden your horizons and learn about the daily lives of people. In so doing, the "uncomfortable" feeling of addressing these issues becomes less. That preparedness can help patients open up about issues so that your can accurately record them and make the dentist aware of those potential problems. 

Understanding the DA's Role —The role that the DA plays is really two-fold. They first help the dentist to provide quality dental services. They secondly help the dentist bridge the gap between patient and dentist. The DA is effectively an ice breaker. How the DA approaches their job is key. Being calm and supportive while effective is not always easy. As you become more familiar with health issues that affect dental health the role becomes easier. While you are in school is a good time to begin that practice. Discuss with your classmates how to approach difficult topics with people you don't know. Role play is a powerful tool and experience is golden. 

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