The Dental Assistant’s Role in Case Acceptance

There is no question in my mind that the dental assistant is a key part of any dental practice’s case acceptance successes or failures. In my lectures around the country for the last 15 years (and my 13 years spent as the managing editor for Dental Economics), I have heard countless stories about how the dentist prescribed treatment and then left the room. The patient then turned to the dental assistant and said, “What do you think?”

The answer to those four words can make the difference between that patient accepting treatment or wanting more time to think about it and ultimately never making the next appointment. How is your dental assistant educated to answer those four key words?

I’ll tell you a true story that is very personal for me. My mom just turned 75 and is diabetic. She has several problems with her oral health because of that. She has also had some not-so-great experiences at the dentist’s office in the past, so she has been very hesitant to even visit the dentist unless it’s an absolute emergency.

She recently fractured one of her front teeth and knew she had to do something about it. Luckily, I was visiting her when this happened and was able to set up an appointment for her with the dentist I trusted so much when I lived in Oklahoma.

It took some discussion, but I finally got her into the chair. The team could tell she was nervous so one of the dental assistants, Jen, took extra care to talk to her during the procedure and give her words of encouragement. My mom now refers to Jen as “Jen the angel.”

Of course, not everything was over once that appointment was done. There were still things that needed to be addressed in my mom’s mouth, and knowing this made my mom very nervous, both in terms of getting back into the chair and also how she was going to pay for it.

Jen, however, had the answers. It was Jen who explained to my mom how important it was to schedule those next appointments. It was Jen who showed her the intraoral camera images to back up what the dentist had said. It was Jen who also started the discussion with my mom about CareCredit and how she could make monthly payments that could fit into her budget.

I can tell you that my mom has gone farther down the path toward optimal dental health because of Jen’s encouragement than I ever thought possible. I have seen first-hand how a knowledgeable and passionate dental assistant can make a difference in one person’s life—and   I am very thankful for that.

Today, think about what steps you are taking to ensure your dental assistant knows the answers to your patients’ questions. Also, how are you communicating with your assistant so you’re both on the same clinical page? Making sure you are on the same page can go a long way toward your assistant having the right answers at a critical time in the patient’s treatment journey.

Here are three simple things you can do this week to help your assistant become more comfortable when questions are asked.

  • First, role play some questions that might be asked by patients. How does he or she answer those questions? If they’re not what you expected, work on some scripting that can help make it a comfortable conversation.
  • Second, ask what technologies the assistant will use to back up what you are telling your patients. Seeing is believing, so make sure the assistant is comfortable explaining what can be seen on X-rays or intraoral images.
  • Third, talk with your assistant about what parts of the day’s work he or she is most passionate about. If patient conversations aren’t a part of the answers, ask why and work together on finding a course or consultant who can help make that part of the day more enjoyable and comfortable.

A well-trained assistant can make a difference between “yes” or “I’ll think about it.” Make sure that one of your resolutions for 2020 and beyond is that you ensure (through training and communication) that your assistants have the confidence and clinical knowledge to become your biggest advocates in the patient’s eyes.