By Rita Njeri Gordon———-
As a dental assistant in a clinical setting, I had the opportunity to work with dentists in various capacities. I was usually the first person of the dental team a patient got to meet once they checked in at the front desk. These initial interactions allowed me the opportunity to get to know the patient and helped them feel welcome to our clinic. I also took sometime to ask them questions in regards to their reason for the dental visit. From this discussion I informed the dentist that the patient was ready and gave him a quick summary of anything the patient may have stated in their absence.
Taking full mouth, or single radiographs, setting and cleaning up the dental unit, sterilizing instruments, scheduling patients, assisting with dental procedures not limited to restorations, dental charting but also surgical procedures, emergency visits and educating patients on post care instructions are some examples of what my daily work included.
I would not have been able to successfully do this without a formal education at a community college and also by successfully passing a national and state exam. In my career as a dental assistant I was fortunate enough to work in two great locations; a general practice and an endodontic practice at a major university. Thus, my dental knowledge expanded tremendously as I grew in the profession. The flexibility of the schedules also made it possible for me to go back to school and pursue another degree as a dental hygienist.
As a dental hygienist my responsibilities changed as I was now working more independent of the dentist. This profession’s primary responsibility is to provide preventive care which includes oral prophylaxis, patient education, and ongoing care plans. My responsibilities in the treatment room involved reviewing the medical history in more depth to ensure that there were no contraindications between medications and treatment proposed. I also did an assessment of patient’s tissues, pocket depths, tissue attachment levels, diet and its role in oral health, and took radiographs for diagnostic and treatment planning purposes.
One of the advantages of being a dental hygienist is you really get to build professional and possibly personal relationships with your patients as you get to see most of them on a regular basis. It also offers great flexibility with a growing family as one can choose how many hours to work in a week.
From these two professions and my love for teaching, I have been successful in working as a full time faculty at a two year college where I teach future dental assistants how to be the best in their job. Our program also raves of high ratings from the community at large at producing dental assistants who are very well prepared for the ever changing global market.
Fifteen years in the dental profession have been a blessing and joy to watch my own personal and professional growth and also my role in the field has evolved with me.
So, whether you choose to be an assistant or a hygienist this profession can open doors to: teaching, clinical practice, sales and marketing, and research amongst other things with additional education for some of them. It is a very fulfilling profession and worth investigating more about.
Rita Njeri Gordon is a Kenyan living in the USA.