EQ and the Dental Assistant

Anita Roubicek, May 2010 -

In the 1960s, ‘70s and even going into the ‘80s, the role of the Dental Assistant was fairly simple, even primitive by today’s standards. The Dentist hired teenage school-leavers or even had young students work part time while they were still attending school.

After being hired they would get close to zero training, but were thrown in at the deep end on day 1 assisting the Dentist at the chairside. This DA would be the un-introduced mute person on the side of the Dentist, holding a sucker in her hand while the dentist was drilling, and passing instruments and materials on request. After a while in the job, they often could read the mind of the Dentist and predict what he was going to need before he even knew himself.

At the end of the patient’s treatment, they would humbly and silently clean up after the Dentist and prepare the room for the next patient.

Let’s wind the clock forward to 2010. The potential for the role of the DA has changed considerably, with many of the 21st century DA's taking on progressively more sophisticated roles. Their role assisting the Dentist is developing exponentially, which is being received happily by Dentists and DA’s alike. The new job can include:

  • Taking x-rays,
  • Inducting the new patients,
  • Forming warm relationships with the patients,
  • Communicating with patients about their dental treatment and potential dental treatment (as decided by the Dentist),
  • Planning and sequencing appointments for the patient’s treatment,
  • Pre-briefing patients about what is going to happen in today’s visit,
  • De-briefing patients about what has happened in today’s treatment and what to expect.
  • Providing the Dentist with feedback on his/her communication with a patient

This is on top of the basic DA role which may already include an increasingly sophisticated and complex role in sterilization of instruments and maintenance of handpieces, ordering of supplies, etc.

When you examine the “new DA’s” plethora of roles, it is obvious that they can be broken down into 2 different types of skills:

  1. The hard skills that depend on someone’s ability to take instruction and learn facts and include things like taking x-rays or sterilizing equipment. They deal with inanimate objects, or processes that require no communication with others. A person’s ability to learn hard skills depends on their intelligence quotient, or IQ.
  2. The soft skills are anything to do with communication and forming relationships. According to research, soft skills are the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that characterise relationships with other people. A person's soft skill EQ is an important part of their contribution to the success of an organisation. Organisations dealing with customers face-to-face are generally more successful if they train their staff to use these skills. Training for personal habits or traits such as dependability and conscientiousness can yield significant return on investment for an organization. For this reason, soft skills are increasingly sought out by employers in addition to standard qualifications.
    It has been suggested that in a profession like a DA, soft skills may be more important over the long term than hard skills.

Examples of soft skills include: participation in a team, teaching others, motivating others, decision making, providing services, problem solving, active listening, being able to build relationships using small-talk and engage in more meaningful conversations. These soft skills can be improved forever, are harder to learn, but infinitely more valuable when performed at a high level.

A DA with a high EQ will have little problem fitting in with any team, and will find themselves naturally talking with patients, bonding with them and forming relationships. They will quickly get involved (where allowed by the Dentist) in discussing treatment options with patients and getting increased case acceptance from patients. All of which assists the dentist to be able to concentrate more on dentistry. There’s almost no end to the roles an efficient, motivated, DA with high EQ can take on in the dental practice.

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