Dental assistants are vital members of every practice’s team, and now it’s time to salute their efforts. The American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA) has named March 6 to March 12 as Dental Assistants Recognition Week to bring attention to their work.
“We want doctors to see that dental assistants are professionals. That’s the biggest challenge,” said Carol A. Walsh, CDA, former secretary of the ADAA. “It’s a very high-demand field.”
In 1921, Juliette A. Southard formed a dental assistants’ society in New York. She later teamed up with Jessie Ellsworth, president of the Chicago and Cook County Dental Assistants Association, to attend the 1923 ADA meeting to advocate for a national group, which formed in 1924.
“Our goal is really the education and promotion of dental assisting,” said Walsh. “We’ve felt that it’s important for assistants to continue their education and be part of their profession. We’re passionate about it.”
Members of the ADAA have free access to more than 70 online continuing education (CE) courses. The AGD has designated the ADAA as a nationally approved sponsor and accepts these CE courses for Fellowship, Mastership, and membership maintenance credit.
Additional ADAA benefits include $50,000 in professional liability insurance, free online job searching, a private health exchange, identity theft protection, travel discounts, membership and networking in state and local chapters, and more.
“We’re just able to offer so much through the Internet,” said Walsh. “Assistants can go onto the website. They can get into the job sites. It keeps track of their educational points. Technology has helped.”
The Web also has enabled better communication between members. In addition to social interaction and camaraderie, members often benefit from posting professional questions on the ADAA website’s forums and on its Facebook page. For example, members can go to each other to see if they in are compliance with their state’s regulations.
“Every state has different regulations about what an assistant can do,” said Walsh. “You can go to the site and find out if you’re doing something legal or illegal in your state.”
These connections are necessary because the profession has seen many changes during the 90 years of the ADAA’s tenure. Where assistants once were responsible for suction and mixing, expanded responsibilities in some states now may involve polishing, temporary placements, and radiology.
“Ultimately, we’re responsible for the protection of the patient,” Walsh said. “If the assistant is not protecting the patient to the right infection control standards, for example, that’s going to affect care.”
Dental assistants play a vital role in patient education and communication, too.
“While the doctor is out of the room, the assistant could be explaining the procedure,” Walsh said. “Patients are more comfortable sometimes talking to the assistant. Often times, it’s more of a person-to-person relationship, whereas the doctor can get technical.”
State and local chapters as well as practices and individuals that want to participate in the week can find promotional information on the ADAA website. Materials include sample advertising, tips on using social media, press release templates, and merchandise order forms.
“We would like doctors to see we’re a vital organization,” Walsh said, “and we’re out there to assist the assistants in becoming more qualified partners.”