What does a dental assistant do?
A dental assistant’s responsibility is so much more than simply “helping the dentist.” Essentially, a dental assistant supports the whole team administer quality dental care — and they are so much more than an extra set of eyes, ears and hands. A dental assistant ensures daily operations run smoothly among other major priorities, with the top three being infection prevention, acting as a team member as well as welcoming patients and providing comfort and care, particularly during high-stress situations.
A dental assistant’s day is action-packed and is reliant on positive relationship-building with both other team members and those walking through the door seeking treatment. So, one might presume that it’s necessary to stay put with one practice permanently in order to form these connections and carry out your duties in the most effective way.
However, nothing could be further from truth. There can be so much more to being a dental assistant than merely applying your skills in a single practice. You can take your expertise to the road in many different scenarios.
Dental assistant talent on the go
You’ve got mad chairside skills. You’ve got a dynamic personality. You want to make a difference, and see the world while you’re at it.Here are some outstanding ideas to do just that...
Missions and volunteering
Quality oral care is a fundamental part of positive overall health and wellbeing. Unfortunately it remains inaccessible for various reasons, with lack of insurance, transportation and income being the primary factors for most people, particularly those who live rurally in the US.
In developing countries, it can be a bit of a different story. In Liberia, for example, the need for dental care is described as “dire.” As of 2014, Liberia had a total of three certified dentists to serve a population as high as an estimated 5 million people. Moreover, with an 85% unemployment rate, people would likely not be able to afford dental care in the first place.
Volunteering or joining a mission group offering oral healthcare can make up a critical part of a dental assistant’s practical learning and achievement. It allows you to grow your skills set, network with other like-minded professionals and help others in need. And opportunities like these abound, both at home and abroad.
You could make a difference in the lives of economically disadvantaged people anywhere from a day in a rural community, to two weeks in an entire village in the Nepalese hills or the Honduran rainforests.
And not only are you helping others in need, you are gaining invaluable experience to develop into a well-rounded practitioner. RDH and B.Sc. graduate Jennifer Hasch emphasizes the importance of providing dental outreach to underserved communities from a practitioner’s standpoint: “Connecting with other clinicians who are determined to make an impact, and gaining experience with mobile and portable dentistry will help prepare you for the clinical challenges you may face.”
As far as a mobile opportunity locally or statewide, schools and community health centres can be a good place to start. You can locate a participating community health centre here.
Additionally, you can serve children from low-income families through Give Kids A Smile, an initiative supported by the ADA Foundation, or contact the Dental Lifeline Network (DLN) for similar volunteer openings.
You can find a number of opportunities to extend your care beyond your local or national communities. If you find yourself available for one week or more, Health Volunteers Overseas (HVO) Dental Education Program and Global Dental Relief offer extraordinary chances to make significant contributions to patients living in underserved areas.
Mobile dentistry services
Some dental assistants feel the need to move around, relieving themselves of the pressure or mundanity of working in the same dental environment day in, day out. Others like to work in various practice scenarios to gain a wealth of experience with different patient profiles, procedures and processes, particularly when just starting out. If working in rural communities or travelling overseas is outside your comfort zone, mobile practice still provides professional development in a variety of locations closer to home.
Placement agencies can help in this regard, matching you up with appropriate assignments based on their needs, and your skills and availability. Some agencies will act as an intermediary between you and the practice to ensure working conditions are adequate and hourly wages are paid on time. Others even arrange housing for you.
A placement agency can offer temporary or contract positions, temporary contract-to-hire, or full-time permanent placements. Many will oversee Workers Compensation issues as well.
Another new advancement in the temporary placement arena are digital job-finding platforms.. These applications allow for dental practices and dental employees alike to search for suitable matches. Cloud Dentistry is one such option.
As a dental assistant, a digital job searching platform allows you create a professional profile that includes your education, credentials and experience for potential employers to view. You can upload a photo, set your days and hours of availability, and let the magic happen.
Practitioners can view your profile and make direct contact with you if they feel you are a good fit, cutting out the placement agency middleman, and giving all participants more autonomy in their assignment coverage.
As a travelling dental assistant, you have the opportunity to give back to communities experiencing crises in their oral hygiene. And volunteering or working for a mission can be one of the most rewarding elements of your career — and to patients’ lives.
Beyond that, placement agencies and mobile dentistry applications allow you to live a life of travel, while practicing your passion.So what are you waiting for?