Dental Assistants: The Unsung Heroes of Dentistry

Today, we shine a spotlight on the often-overlooked heroes of dental care: dental assistants.

Interviewer: Tanya Sue Maestas, DDS
Interviewee: Ronda Holman
Edited By: Candy Velez – CRDH, BSDH

Through the eyes of Ronda Holman, a seasoned dental assistant with 24+ years of experience, we explore the challenges, triumphs, and invaluable roles these professionals play in dentistry.

The Journey to Becoming a Dental Assistant

Ronda’s personal experiences as a dental patient shaped her career path.

Ronda explains that her interactions with compassionate dental assistants during her dental challenges inspired her to join the profession. In her words,

“I was a mouth breather growing up, and I had rampant childhood decay. I had dental crowding, retrognathic mandible, chronic ear infections, and throat infections. I spent a lot of time in Ortho. I was in brackets for three years.”

This early exposure fueled her determination to create positive experiences for others and instilled in her the passion to pursue dental assisting as a career.

The Challenges Faced by Dental Assistants

Dental assisting demands a diverse skill set, yet standardization within the profession varies widely. Ronda highlights the lack of uniformity, stating,

“There’s a lot of us that don’t have education debt, so we’re not tied. We don’t love it, and we’re not great at it. We don’t have to commit to it because we didn’t sign a contract or just different rules apply. And then there’s a lot of them that don’t have the right mentors, don’t feel empowered. They’re not delegating. They’re not making them feel like a critical part of the team. And so that commitment isn’t there either.”

The absence of mentorship and a supportive environment can lead to dissatisfaction and attrition within the field.

Ronda highlights the importance of mentorship and creating an environment that fosters growth and learning for dental assistants.

Without the proper support and guidance, many dental assistants may feel discouraged and ultimately leave the profession or pursue other career paths, such as dental hygiene.

The Power of Team Growth for Dental Assistants

A central theme in Ronda’s narrative is the transformative power of collaborative learning. Dental assistants, often the linchpin of dental teams, thrive in environments fostering continuous education.

Ronda emphasizes the impact of joint learning experiences, where dentists and assistants grow together, leading to enhanced patient care and professional fulfillment. She states,

“We build better teams. Oh my gosh, that’s the perfect tagline. I’m like, that’s what I want because I didn’t start caring about my career and the trajectory of it until my dentist said, we’re going to learn together; we’re doing this together. I expect you to be as good as I am at this particular thing.”

This collaborative approach not only enhances skills but also strengthens the bond between team members, ensuring a harmonious and efficient work environment.

Learning from Mistakes: The Case of Packing Cord

Ronda candidly shares a clinical mistake her team made with packing cord during crown prep and deliveries. This mistake led to the packed cord being left in the sulcus, causing discomfort and complications for the patients.

However, instead of dwelling on the mistake, Ronda and her team used the clinical mistake as an opportunity for growth and improvement.

“There’s this really neat routing slip that we fabricated for our crown prep and deliveries. We just got to double down, make sure we do it this way now because it’s the way we’re doing it.”

By implementing a simple checklist and ensuring that each step of the procedure is followed meticulously, Ronda and her team were able to prevent the recurrence of the mistake. This proactive approach to learning from mistakes and implementing systems and protocols is a testament to the dedication and commitment of the dental team.

The Importance of Effective Communication & Feedback for Dental Assistants

To foster a culture of continuous improvement, effective communication, and feedback are essential. Ronda emphasizes the need for open and honest communication between dentists and dental assistants, as well as within the dental team as a whole.

Deliver constructive criticism in a way that encourages growth and avoids causing unnecessary stress or discouragement.

“I’ve seen dental assistants leave because of how constructive criticism was delivered… It’s a very delicate thing, especially if you want to avoid attrition and you want to be a good leader… Every dentist that I’ve ever worked for that has kept the team together is somebody who has gone through extra programs to develop their business skills.”

Investing in leadership development programs can equip dentists with the skills to communicate and provide feedback to their dental assistants effectively. Which, in turn, creates a positive and supportive work environment that encourages growth and fosters a sense of belonging within the dental team.

Conclusion and Future Outlook

Dental assistants are the unsung heroes of dentistry, playing a critical role in ensuring the success of dental procedures and the overall patient experience.

However, the profession faces challenges such as a need for more standardization and limited opportunities for career growth. By fostering a culture of continuous learning, effective communication, and teamwork, dental teams can overcome these challenges and provide the best possible care for their patients.

The case of the packing cord mistake serves as a reminder that mistakes are opportunities for growth and improvement. By implementing systems and protocols, dental teams can prevent the recurrence of mistakes and ensure that procedures run smoothly.

Looking ahead, dentists and dental assistants must continue investing in their professional development and seek out mentorship opportunities.

By doing so, they can stay at the forefront of advancements in dentistry and provide the highest level of care for their patients.

Thought Leadership Summary

As we conclude this insightful episode, remember dental assistants are the backbone of dental care.

Their expertise and dedication shape positive patient experiences and elevate the standards of dentistry.

Embrace continuous learning, nurture open communication, and seek mentorship opportunities. By empowering dental assistants, we enhance the entire dental profession.

Until next time, keep learning, keep exploring, and fuel your dental dreams with knowledge!

Ronda Holman

Ronda Holman

Ronda Holman found her passion for dental assisting while in the Air Force. She assisted in oral surgery, general dentistry, and ended her four-year service as a prophy tech, the military’s version of a dental hygienist. She married and spent 13 years traveling the country while her husband served in the Air Force. Each time Ronda relocated she got the opportunity to work in a new dental office, where she picked up pearls that have helped her become an expert in educating dental assistants. Her interests are immediate denture/partial fabrication, CEREC technology, patient education, and striving for optimal chairside skills. Ronda believes that every dental assistant has the potential to be a rock star assistant if given the right tools and guidance.