Schools Training

The Evolution of Dental Assistants

22 MAY 2013
Career Path : Dental Care

While dentistry has evolved rapidly in modern times to its present day efficiency and near painless procedures, dental care has been a going concern for thousands of years now. Ancient Egyptians used a form of toothpaste and would place ceremonial dentures wrapped in gold wire over their original teeth. The ancient Chinese would wrap tiny pieces of parchment containing written prayers and incantations around painful teeth. A trip to the dentist has long been associated with enduring elaborate techniques of torture, superstitious patients long believing that cavities were caused by a certain tooth worm. The role of the dental assistant has evolved in part to alleviate these fears while helping the dentist deliver smooth and effective service.
All dental assistants were once known as “Ladies in Attendance”, dating back to 1885 when New Orleans dentist Dr. C. Edmund Kells first enlisted his wife to help him with his pioneering practice. She would likely have assisted with mixing dental materials and cleaning up after procedures. The growing success of Dr. Kells’ practice prompted him to then hire Malvina Cueria, who as a teenager became the first dental assistant in modern history. Her presence in the office made it possible for women to be treated without their husbands’ company, a dental-related triumph for woman’s rights.
Dental assistants are depended upon to provide the necessary tools to the dentist’s fingers at a moment’s notice, to monitor the patient’s vital signs during a procedure, and making the important preparations behind the scenes. Each dental tool must be properly sanitized and examined for functionality, with specific sets being made available prior to various operations. The assistant generally reviews the medical history with the patient and greets them with a reassuring manner. It sometimes takes some work to calm new patients the first time in the dentist’s chair – it was after all a dentist who invented the electric chair!
People of all types and ages may walk into the dentist office, so good interpersonal skills are a valued asset. Babies less than three months old don’t have plaque inducing bacteria or cavities, but other children provide a special challenge for those with dental assistant training. It is important to have a warm and inviting demeanor to make the dentist as fun a place as possible and earn their trust, perhaps holding their hand to show them around the office before the procedure begins. Kids laugh about 400 times a day compared to 15 for adults, so a little toy and joke should break the ice.
Dental offices have come a long way since the days in early America when folks would go to their local barber for a trim, shave, some bloodletting and a tooth extraction. From computerized billing systems to dental tools themselves, processes have evolved to become as pain-free as possible. The career success of both dental assistants and those who have completed medical office assistant courses will largely depend on the strength of relationships with doctors and dentists in the office, while combining technical, interpersonal and organizational skills.

Visit the National Academy of Health & Business (NAHB) for more information about dentistry and payroll training.