The Articulate Dentist - A Blog by the Metro Denver Dental Society

Dental Assistants: The Secret Weapon of a Dental Practice

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By: Kevin Henry

In my 20-plus years serving as the managing editor for Dental Economics, editor of DrBicuspid.com and group editorial director for Dental Products Report, I have seen a lot of great things accomplished by dental practices throughout the country. I have also seen many common mistakes, whether they were located in big or small towns or focused on insurance or were fee-for-service.

One of the biggest mistakes I often see dental practices make (and yes, the dentist make as well) is not treating the practice as a small business. I know dentists want to focus on dentistry, but running the practice as a business and knowing your numbers and what each of your employees can do to boost the profitability of the business is vital to your success.

That includes how your dental assistant can impact the bottom line. These hard-working men and women are often viewed as the bottom rung of the ladder or the lowest person on the proverbial totem pole when it comes to the pecking order of the practice. However, your assistants play an integral role in your practice’s success every day.

They are the ones who often handle the ordering, reaffirm to a patient that they really do need that crown, help your patients understand the benefits of their dental treatment, and get them through any anxiety they may have about sitting in your chair.

So how can dentists help their assistants be a bigger part of the practice’s bottom line? Here are four ways you can make a difference in their lives and in your success.

Allow assistants to do everything they are legally allowed to do in the state In a simple economic explanation, the highest-paid member of any business (that would be the dentist in a dental practice) should do whatever he or she can to bring in the highest amount of revenue. That means the dentist should be focusing on procedures that would bring the largest amount of production to the schedule.

If the dentist is able to do a procedure in one operatory while an assistant finishes up a procedure in another, income can increase. I strongly encourage every dentist to know their state’s dental laws so they can know exactly what their assistant legally can do in the practice.

An easy way to find those laws is to go to the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) website at www.danb.org. There, click on the “meet state requirements” tab and find your state. What your assistant can legally do in your state will be available in an easy-to-read PDF format.

After looking at that PDF, if you discover something that your assistant isn’t doing now that they could be doing, give them the education to perform the task to free you up to do other things. You will be amazed at how your production numbers could climb.

On the other hand, if you’re nervous about giving up control on a procedure, is it because of your assistant’s clinical skills? Gift them with professional education (see below). Is it because you like to maintain control? Decide if that control is worth keeping your revenue from climbing to where it could be.

Empower them with education
This is mentioned above, but make sure you are finding courses (online or in-person when that option becomes available again) that boost your dental assistant’s career. Talk to your assistant about what they love to do every day in the practice and find courses that can expand upon that passion. So many assistants I know love oral surgery. What about your assistants? Talk to them today and map out a game plan together that will capitalize upon their passion or an area where they want to improve their clinical skills.

Show appreciation
I recently conducted a survey of close to 1,000 dental assistants and asked them what was the nicest thing a dentist ever said to them. The overwhelming response was, “Thank you.” Are you showing enough appreciation on a regular basis to these valuable team members in your practice?

So many dentists think they must reward their team members with gifts or raises or things that cost money. Yet assistants constantly tell me how much a simple “thank you” does for their morale and self-esteem. Your assistants yearn to be a big part of your practice and its success. Let them know they are.

Let them thrive
I believe beyond the shadow of a doubt that assistants can be leaders in the practice. Assistants wear a number of hats every day, doing everything from making sure the necessary supplies are in-house to comforting patients who might be worried about their appointments. When assistants know that the dentist believes in them and “has their back,” great things can happen. Don’t hesitate to tell them just how important they are to your business today, tomorrow and every day.


Kevin Henry is the co-founder of IgniteDA, a community designed to empower, educate and enlighten dental assistants. His first book, “Battling and Beating the Demons of Dental Assisting” is now available on Amazon.com.

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The Articulate Dentist is a blog by the Metro Denver Dental Society, providing members with insight into the dental industry, practice management tips, tech trends and best practices as well as Society news and updates.