Ashley Brown, 23, works as a full-time dental assistant at a dental office in Hanover, Penn., where she also lives. Brown graduated in August 2012 with a certificate in dental assisting from YTI Career Institute's Capital Region campus in Mechanicsburg, Penn. She recently shared her professional insight with CareerColleges.com including valuable advice for aspiring dental assistants.
Q. Describe a typical day at work.
A. We usually have a morning huddle where we go over the schedule and discuss any patients that may need special care. If we have children coming in, we try to make sure we have people working that day that like working with children. If we have patients with special needs, we assign certain people to those patients. Then we see our patients and work up to lunchtime.
After lunch, we see the rest of our patients for the day. We also take care of lab cases and work on models of people's teeth that we need to pour or trim to make temporary partials or bridges for dentures. We make sure everything is organized and clean. At end of day everyone makes sure the instruments are sterilized and put away -- and we turn everything off.
Q. What dental procedures have you assisted in?
A. I have assisted in restorative procedures such as fillings and crowns -- also surgical extractions and some work in pediatric dentistry.
Q. What are some benefits you enjoy at work?
A. One of the benefits is being able to help somebody feel better about his or herself. People may not be able to smile because they are not comfortable with their smile. We help change that, and they can leave the office with a big grin on their face. It is also amazing to help educate people who don't know how much their oral health can affect their overall health. It's also rewarding making children feel comfortable, so they don't grow up being afraid of the dentist.
Q. What kind of hours do you work, and how are those scheduled? Also, how are weekends and holidays handled?
A. I work Monday through Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to 5 or 6 p.m. and volunteer at a clinic on Fridays. The schedule is basically between 25 and 30 hours a week. Sometimes I get up to 35 hours depending on how late I am there. I have never worked Saturday and Sunday, and the office is not usually open on weekends. We don't work on holidays, and we usually get lots of little breaks if they are major holidays.
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Q. What is your favorite part about being a dental assistant?
A. My favorite part would have to be being able to interact with people every day. I love being able to help people feel better about their smiles and themselves. I am a huge people person. I also love that I am helping people with their overall health and educating them. Another one of my favorite things about my job is working with children.
Q. What are your least favorite things about this career?
A. Sometimes it is dangerous working in healthcare. If you get cut with a dirty instrument you could be infected with something -- it is not fun having that fear. But we are taught to very careful. Accidents do happen, but if you know what you are doing you will ok.
I also don't like causing people pain; it is not fun to see them hurt. Our office has the best of everything, and we do everything in our power to make our guests' visits are as comfortable as possible. It can also be hard when somebody needs care because they have an infection in their mouth, and they think that you just want their money. For us, we know certain infections can cause other health problems.
Q. What measures have you done to improve yourself as a dental assistant?
A. I took a continuing education course at YTI -- I decided that was something I needed to do to still keep up. And if I am unsure of something I go back to the books I used in school; it is always good to refresh yourself so you can give the patients the best care. But mostly it is hands-on. I am dealing with adults as well as children, so I get experience with all types of new equipment and get a lot of education just from working.
Q. How can you get promoted as a dental assistant?
A. There are many different ways you can advance. You can go back to school and learn expanded functions, which the next level up for dental assistants. You are able to do more things, like place fillings and do a lot of things the dentist can do. It's not everything they can do, but almost. You also can move up and become a clinical coordinator, or you can be in charge of ordering and supplies.
Q. Would you recommend getting certified?
A. I would, because there is so much stuff you have to learn. Some people do go into the office and learn from the others at the office, but what you learn at school is so beneficial. You can't really learn things like anatomy and radiology just by working at a dental office. Academic knowledge gives you the understanding of how things work -- it helps you be more educated and lets you better answer patients' questions.
Q. How can recent graduates find an entry-level job as a dental assistant?
A. If they are in a school like mine, there is a career services program that helps you make your resume and get it out. They also will do mock interviews with you, and they will call you if they have job offers. You can look for job fairs and attend those with copies of your resume. You also can go to different practices and hand out your resume. Looking online is another great way to get a job.
Q. What is the most challenging part of your job?
Always learning new things like new technology, new equipment and new materials. It's also challenging always trying to make patients feel calm and trying to relieve them of what they are nervous about. And finally, trying not to get bit!
Q. What skills are most valuable for a dental assisting job?
A. Being able to adapt. You can't always take everything you have learned in school and say that is the way to do it. Also, you want to be sure that you are always doing something to stay busy; you don't want to be a wallflower in the office. You want to get in there and get your hands on stuff and push yourself to let your employer know you want to be there.
Other skills that are important are learning how to use different systems, how to take X-rays, and how to use computer chartering and paper charting -- you never know when you will use one or the other. Lastly, you have to always be professional.
Q. What advice would you give someone entering this field?
A. You have to love what you do. You have to like being a dental assistant. A lot of people don't like go to the dentist, and you are working to make their visit as pleasant and as comfortable as possible. You want to always be willing to learn and to be helpful -- don't be timid and stand back. Show your employer you are interested in what you are doing, and if you aren't sure about something, ask. Make sure you always keep up with making sure everything is clean and that you follow the proper steps for sterilization to keep yourself and your patients protected.
Q. Finally, what was the most valuable piece of information you learned in your dental assisting training program that you were able to apply in the workplace?
A. The importance of being adaptable and willing to learn -- a lot of employers look for that. You don't want to go into the office and not mesh well with others. Don't try to do your own thing just because it's the way you learned it in in school. Every office is different, and you have to learn to work within that office.
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