Thursday, February 2, 2012

Ode to the Dental Assistant

Tomorrow is my free dental day. “Dentistry with our Hearts” is a day we open our doors and treat as many patients as we can for free. I put a dentist in every room (eight) and we go as fast as we can. It is a crazy day. It is first come, first served; last year people got here before I left work on Thursday. We cut the line off at 130 people and that was at 6:30.

A lot of the stuff is donated: supplies, anesthetic, food for the volunteers (about 40). There is even a DJ and a grill master outside feeding the masses. T-shirts are donated. It is awesome. I may have a chance to write blog tomorrow, but if not, I will talk to you next Wednesday.

I was just thinking about my yesterday while I was getting ready for work. I had a very busy day and I was reflecting on it. And you know what? I started to think about how hard my assistants worked.

Yeah, the same assistants I talk bad about most of the time. Well not bad, but not great. I have two assistants mostly. Mine, who I met at one of my associateships 16 years ago, has worked with me for 16 years and in this office for 15 years. The other assistant is my father’s #1 assistant and has been with this practice for 34 years. That alone will tell you a little bit about them.

My assistant Chris is pretty special. In my lecture I have a list of the top ten things you must have to do awesome fillings. Chris is one of the top ten. Now, I know she can't be duplicated, but you have to have someone like her.

Our relationship is so unique. I always say she is my office wife. I literally sit 3 feet from her 8 hours a day. First, I have to like her and she has to like me. I can understand "a working relationship.” But Chris and I are friends. Her family is friends with my family. I love her husband. She gets invited to all Gammichia parties (her family even came over for Thanksgiving last year).

I know most of you are not that friendly with your assistant. We have a weird relationship. I think it works because she is a little older than me (13 years). But let’s put personal stuff to the side. She is a great assistant. She is responsible. I think in the 15 years she has worked here, she has missed about 3 days of work. She is on time EVERY DAY.

She believes in me, almost to a fault. Or rather, she believes in the kind of dentistry I do. If I don't think I can save a tooth with a filling and think it is going to need a crown, she will pipe up, "Oh, sure you can. I have seen you do bigger fillings." Then I have to explain to her and the patient why she will no longer be working here anymore.

She is awesome with the patients. God forbid she go on vacation. All I hear is "Where is Chris?" There are a couple of reasons for this. When people are getting work done, we are chatting. It makes their appointment not suck so bad. I am relaxed and can do my thing.

She knows me. If I move my head, she knows what to do. If I am quiet, she knows that I am into some serious tooth issues and she won't talk. If I change things in the middle of the procedure, BAM!, she changes gears without a lot of huffing and puffing.

Her and I like the same things. We talk politics and religion. We talk kids. And in all these subjects, she thinks she knows it all (did I tell you that she is 13 years older?).

You and I both know when people have been in a practice for that long, they can have a tendency to cop an attitude. And they can mark their territory in an office. A telling sign is how they work with new people. Chris is great with new assistants. I know you dentists see your assistants running the new girl ragged. You see them abusing her emotionally and physically, saying that if she can survive this abuse, she can make it here. I know what you dentists do and allow. And if you don't think it is going on then you are turning a blind eye to it.

But Chris will show them the ropes and ease them into it. She keeps them away from me until she thinks they are ready. This is not for them; it is for me. She knows I am getting crotchety in my old age and doesn't want me to be upset and doesn't want them to be put in a position to fail. She is not concerned about a new assistant taking over her job.

She is the queen bee around here and I let her be. I let her because I know she always considering me. Simple as that. She might show her teeth to other people in the office, but I am okay with it because she has earned it. But she is also approachable. I can talk to her about what I like and how I want things (and she will at least make it look like she is listening). I can also tell her when she is not playing well with others.

She is the assistant that can talk to me. People say I am intimidating, but certainly Chris doesn’t think so. She will tell me when my hair looks like crap and she will tell me when it is time to trim my eyebrows. She tells me when I have a wild hair growing out of the side of my ear. I mean, men are stupid, really. We need someone to take care of us. You have all seen the guy with nose hairs hanging out like crazy. You think, "Someone needs to tell that guy." Well, if I miss something at home, Chris is the one that is going to tell me.

In my first 18 months of practice, I went through 7 assistants. No lie. I know how hard it is to find that person. But I also know what it is like to love to come to work. Partly because I love dentistry and partly because I like Chris (and the others). I think I am a better dentist because of her. She lets me be me and doesn't judge. I couldn't do it without her.

I hope you all have someone like her in your office. Maybe I don't tell her enough. If that is the case, I hope she reads this.

Have a great Thursday.



chris said...

Thanks, you are the best and you know how important and special you are to me and my whole family. We are very lucky to have what we have.

Lakeway Dentist said...

Its! Great guys thanks for sharing. I must appreciate your work.

Luu said...

Great post. The work of a good dental assistant is way undervalued.

Lewis Remington said...

This is and awesome ode to a woman who definitely seems to have helped you a lot. I think it can be really hard to be a dental assistant, so finding a dentist that appreciates you is very rewarding. It's a hard job that takes a lot of patience and work.

Lina Saenz said...

We are dental assistant students looking for DENTAL ASSISTANTS who would like to take a survey. It is for a research project for college. We would really appreciate it if you would take the time to fill one out.

You can send an email to so we can provide a link to the survey. It will only take 2 minutes!

Amy said...

Just love the appreciation that is expressed! Without dental assistants, many dentistry professionals would be lost, I know!

harrytommy said...

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