Kid smiling after getting a teeth cleaning

6 Tips for Assisting a Dentist in Patient Care

Carey-Ann Thurlow

December 20, 2022

Summary of Key Points

  • Patient care refers to actions and attitudes that serve a patient’s individual needs, preferences, and values when they interact with a dental practice.
  • Easy ways to improve patient care as a dental assistant include active and empathetic listening, setting expectations, keeping exam rooms clean, scheduling appointments efficiently, knowing your patients’ needs ahead of time by studying their charts, and having an appropriate sense of humour.
  • Risio’s Dental Assistant Distance Delivery Diploma Program provides training focused on patient care in a supportive environment, under the guidance of experienced professionals. Use these tips to start improving your patient care abilities and consider further training to enhance them.

Dental patients are human beings with unique needs and sensitivities, so understanding how to accommodate them during appointments is vitally important. But this responsibility doesn’t just belong to dentists—dental assistants play a critical role in patient care as well!

At Risio Institute, our unique Dental Assistant Distance Diploma Program includes a specific focus on providing best-in-class patient care. Below, we’ve compiled some simple but effective tips to help any current or aspiring dental assistant improve this vital area—read on and give your patient care skills a boost today!

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What Is Patient Care in Dentistry?

Lots of practices use the term “patient care” and say it’s a priority—but not everyone knows what it actually means. The first step to improving patient care as a dental assistant is to define this term properly and understand how it applies to your work.

One of the most commonly accepted definitions for patient care within the dental field is as follows:

“… provision of care that is respectful of and responsive to individual patient preferences, needs, and values and ensuring that patient values guide all clinical decisions”.

What does that mean? In simple terms, patient care refers to the considerations and actions taken to improve a patient’s experience whenever they interact with a practice. As a dental assistant, patient care could be involved in anything from booking appointments and welcoming patients to prepping the exam rooms for them and defusing potential conflicts during their visits.

Risio’s Tips for Improving Patient Care as a Dental Assistant

Here are six simple but important things we recommend all dental assistants focus on to improve patient care:

Dental assistant having friendly conversation with patient to relax them during exam

Via Adobe Stock.

Listen & Show Empathy

Dental anxiety is common among patients—nearly 10% of people are actually afraid of going to the dentist! As such, dental assistants can greatly improve their patients’ experiences by taking their concerns seriously and showing empathy for their feelings.

To do this effectively, you’ll want to make sure to practice active listening and check in on your patient regularly during appointments. Some examples of questions to ask include:

  • How are you feeling today?
  • Are you comfortable?
  • Do you have any questions before we start?

Be prepared to hear your patient’s honest responses to these questions and respond with words of encouragement. Patients who feel heard and cared for during their appointments are much more likely to relax.

Help Patients Know What to Expect

You can improve a patient’s experience significantly during their appointment by clearly communicating with them at the front end about what’s going to happen. This will relieve anxiety caused by fear of the unknown.

Taking just a few minutes at the start of the appointment to explain the work you and the dentist will be performing allows patients to prepare themselves and can give them more confidence. You can even have this conversation when you’re walking the patient into the exam room from the waiting area!

Keep the Exam Room Clean & Organized

Speaking of the exam room, it’s vital that patients always find it clean and well-maintained. Dentistry is sensitive and delicate work, so patients want to know that the people working inside their mouths are responsible and detail-oriented—and since cleanliness is also commonly associated with disinfection, keeping the exam room tidy will often help reassure the patient that the dental treatments they’re receiving are sanitary as well.

Be Familiar with Scheduling Software & Tools

Many patients can find their moods negatively impacted by unexpected delays, so it’s critical to ensure that appointments run on schedule. Since many dental assistants also play a role in booking appointments for patients, one key way to improve patient experience is to know your practice’s scheduling software inside and out.

Smiling dental assistant holding patient chart before appointment

Via Adobe Stock.

Study the Patient’s Chart Before Each Appointment

Of course, being organized is about more than keeping rooms clean and having strong time management skills. Dentistry is a people-oriented field, so the more you know about what your patients need, the easier it is to inspire their confidence.

Dental assistants can improve patient care by reviewing relevant charts and files prior to each scheduled appointment. This will make it easier to anticipate a patient’s needs and communicate effectively with them during their visit.

Have a Sense of Humour

Finally, it’s important to remember that as important as dental work is, it doesn’t have to be gloomy! In fact, most patients want a little levity during their appointment, as a well-placed joke or two can take their minds off the horrible tooth—um, we mean “uncomfortable reality” that someone will be poking around in their mouths!

Of course, you want to make sure that any jokes you tell to a patient are appropriate and use your best judgment. You don’t have to be a professional comedian to be a dental assistant, but connecting genuinely to your patients and having a little fun is a great way to make them comfortable and help them enjoy the experience.

Smiling dentist and dental assistant helping patient feel comfortable during appointment

Via Adobe Stock.

Take Your Next Step Towards a Dental Assisting Career

The tips above are all great starting points for improving the experience of your patients, but patient care is an art, and you’ll want time to practice in a realistic environment under the guidance of experienced professionals to truly master it. Risio’s diploma program gives you access to experts and resources who can help you take these essential skills to the next level—contact us for more details on how we can help you build your career!

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