How to Hire Dental Assistants: Job Skills
By: John Rossheim
Well-trained dental assistants perform a variety of indispensable tasks at private practices and in clinics. Recruiting people with an aptitude for
this work is critical to the smooth and profitable operation of any dental practice.
These tips will assist with sourcing and interviewing dental assistant candidates.
Key Dental Assistant Licenses and Certifications:
- Dental assistant licensing requirements vary widely by state
- Some states have no training requirements
- Scope of practice for dental assisting also varies by state
- Dental assistant certification encompasses graduating from a program approved by the Commission on Dental Accreditation and completing required hours of dental assisting
- Expanded-function dental assisting can include dental assistant specializations in orthodontia, preventive dentistry and restorative dentistry
"You can check whether a candidate has DANB certification on the organization's web site with their Social Security number," says Lori Paschall, president of the American Dental Assistants Association. "You can find out if they are credentialed and whether it’s current."
Key Dental Assistant Job Skills:
- Assist with dental procedures such as organizing and sterilizing equipment
- Perform chair-side tasks such as keeping the patient’s mouth dry with suction
- Process x-rays and perform laboratory tasks under supervision
- Take dictation from the dentist and keep records
- Schedule and confirm patient appointments
- Process billing, payment and insurance
“In some bigger cities, you see more requirements for education, and less in rural areas if you just need someone to handle suction," say Paschall.
Key Dental Assistant Experience:
- For many aspiring dental assistants, externships through accredited training program provide the initial experience that launches a career
- Dentists sometimes prefer to train hire dental assistants straight out of school
- Some dental assistants accumulate experience in a specialty such as orthodontia or oral surgery
- “Dental assistants have to be able to work well under pressure and multitask, all while showing compassion for patients," says Karen Casale of the dental assisting program at Manchester Community College in Connecticut.
- "We tell graduates that when they have no work experience, the best way to get started is to temp through an agency," says Paschall.
How to Source Dental Assistants:
- Externships are a prime source of freshly trained dental assistants
- Job postings, social media and word of mouth can yield qualified candidates
- New grads in dental assisting may welcome temporary assignments
- “Typically a dental practice will post an ad, or use word of mouth or social media," says Paschall. "Dental assistants don’t necessarily know about online postings, or about the ADAA.”
- "I find dental assistants via externships, word of mouth, queries to community colleges and sometimes through manufacturers' reps," says Brian Nylaan, DDS, a Michigan dentist in private practice. “My personal preference is I’d like to get them fresh out of school, so I can teach them to do things the way I see fit."
- "Many students get hired by clinical sites that they rotate through in externships," says Casale. "It’s like an extended working interview for students."
What to Cover in Dental Assistant Interviews:
- Communication skills in the technical context of clinical work are indispensable
- The candidate's interpersonal skills and devotion to the profession should be tested face-to-face
- Compatibility with the full range of staff in the practice is critical
- "Ask what brought them to the field, and some technical clinical questions," says Paschall.
- "My office manager does the initial cut to three finalists," says Dr. Nylan. "Then we invite each candidate in to converse with the staff, and they give me their input. If I’m not totally sold, I may pay a candidate to come in and work with me for half a day."
- "We're in close quarters, and we have to make patients comfortable," says Dr. Nylaan. "So personality is a big issue for me.”
How to Close the Deal When Hiring Dental Assistants:
- Find out what matters most to the candidate: money, variety of work, or hours?
- In a profession with relatively modest pay, a slightly better offer can substantially improve recruitment results
Recruiter Tip: "Some of our grads are looking for a specific environment – orthodontics or oral surgery or general practice," says Casale. "For others, the main thing is location or money or hours — some practices are hiring part-time."