I’m sure we’ve all been there: Our dental assistant tells us that he or she is resigning. You know, the one who has the whole office put together and knows it like the back of his or her hand. The one whom you know, deep in your heart, you’d rather not function without.
I’ve worked with numerous assistants throughout my career, and over the years, I’ve understood their job to be a difficult one — not that ours as dentists is a walk in the park, but I can’t imagine a day without them. In fact, as I look back, my most beloved assistants were at the center of those smoothly run days integral to the running of the practice and, more importantly, patient treatment. (Of course, I’ve had assistants who totally ruined a day, too, but I’m choosing to focus on the good ones here.) This isn’t news to anyone, I’m sure, but I’m reflecting on this now because lately, we lost a superb assistant to dental school and another to an injury. In the meantime, I’ve had to work with short-term assistants, striving to fill the void and, boy, has that opened my eyes.
They don’t know our systems, our codes and our vices; they are like first-time guests in my house being asked to cook a four-course meal. They don’t know where our materials are kept, are not familiar with our software and, of course, don’t know the staff or our patients. Sure, everyone starts from scratch, but when you get so used to your routine, and the way your favorite assistant kept all of your cabinets well-organized, the “outsider” assistant is difficult to integrate for such a short amount of time. Ultimately, I’ve become both a dentist and an assistant lately, and this has given me a perspective of what assistants’ work entails and how important their job is to our job.
It’s no secret that it all comes down to team effort. I can’t treat a patient efficiently (and effectively) without my assistant. A short while ago, it took me close to 10 minutes to break down a room and just as long to set it up. I was grumbling internally the whole time, thinking that it would have taken My Favorite Assistant Who Wasn’t There half the time. And to think I used to do that in a flash in dental school some 10 years ago. Another time, I battled furiously with the suctions and resigned that I’m not good at operating both sides of the chair at the same time.
As much as we all know assistants do not share our exact perspective or the responsibility that lies on our shoulders as dentists, patients still typically confide in them more than they do in us. Assistants are uncanny when it comes to organizing and structuring drawers and cabinets, ordering, etc. Most take beautiful alginate impressions and can take a full-mouth series in less time than I can say “full-mouth series.” Most of all, they echo our treatment philosophy and reinforce our practice protocols when we’re not in the room.
Needless to say, I’ve felt my dental assistant’s absence and the misery of not having a consistent, reliable comrade by my side. Much the same way physicians may feel as if they can’t treat patients without nurses, dentists need assistants to streamline patient care. I’m sure that few dentists would disagree, unless they are the kind who likes to work alone. Here’s to all of the dental assistants out there.
Zeynep Barakat, DMD, FAGD