Moving Forward

By Laura Thill

As doctors grow in their profession, so must dental assistants. DSOs provide the opportunities they need.

Working in a dental service organization (DSO) comes with its share of opportunities, according to Nina Diasio, a dental assistant coach and OSHA/HIPAA compliance officer at Chicago-based Acierno Family Dentistry, a DecisionOne Dental Partners supported practice. At the same time, given how quickly DSOs adopt new technology, dental assistants today must be fast learners, she adds.

Dental assistants today continue to be indispensable to the dentist, whether they work in a private practice or a DSO, notes Diasio. “However, there are many more opportunities in a DSO situation,” she says. For instance, it’s much easier to find a replacement in a DSO setting when scheduling vacation or sick time, she points out. “If I want to schedule a vacation, I can always find someone from another DecisionOne Dental Partners office to fill in for me.” As a result, the practice rarely needs to rely on a temp service, she explains, and it’s an opportunity for those looking to add extra hours.

Dental assistants working in DSOs also benefit from growth opportunities they may not have in a private practice, she continues. “I have been a dental assistant for 18 years,” she says. “For the last three years, in addition to chairside assisting, I have taken on the role of dental assistant coach and I’m the OSHA representative for our DSO. As such, I help train and onboard all new assistants, as well as ensure our practices are OSHA compliant.” And, she’s confident she’ll continue to grow professionally in years to come.

New technology, new responsibilities
DSOs are well-positioned to adopt new technology, which means better patient care. Dental professionals today can catch and treat more oral health issues than ever before, Diasio points out. “As a result, our patients are healthier and can keep their teeth longer,” she says. “The challenge for the dental team, however, is that we must stay on our A-game at all times, whether that means keeping up with technology or being able to properly educate patients. Technology has become a much greater part of our job and we need to move quickly to keep up with it.”

Indeed, dental assistants today have a whole new and sophisticated set of responsibilities. “Not only are we now seeing more patients and doing a lot more dentistry, but the new materials and technology are very technique sensitive,” says Diasio. “We are expected to learn and do a lot more than we did 10 years ago. For instance, our offices have started to use laser therapy for periodontal treatment. The lasers are very technique sensitive and the care for the lasers is very particular. Even though dental assistants don’t use the laser equipment, we need to learn everything about the procedure and the equipment in order to educate the patients and properly care for the equipment.

“Ten years ago, there weren’t digital scanners,” she continues. “Doctors weren’t doing as much Invisalign or placing implants. Today, it’s vital for dental assistants to be able to take a great digital impression. As the doctors grow in their profession, we have to move right along with them.” Dental assistants who are not willing to learn new techniques and adapt to new technology won’t go far in their profession, she adds.

The same but different
While protocols are in place at DecisionOne Dental Partners to ensure a degree of consistency, each office is unique, according to Diasio. “We insist that every office follows the same standard of patient care and comply with OSHA standards,” she explains. “It’s important that patients can have a great experience at any of our offices. However, the doctors at DecisionOne Dental Partners are given a good amount of autonomy about how they run their office. As such, the dental assistants in our group only need to be in sync with their office. My job as the dental assistant coach is to visit all of the offices in the DSO and make sure the assistants are comfortable and enjoy their job and answer any questions they may have about the systems or protocols in place at their office.”

Diasio anticipates the patient experience will become increasingly more important in years to come, further impacting the role of dental assistants. “Patients are always looking for a better experience, whether it is at the front desk or in regard to their health,” she says, and the dental team will continue looking for ways to deliver the best possible service. For dental assistants, this will mean continuing to evolve with the profession and staying current with the latest techniques and technology. “Dental assistants will be more important in years to come than ever before,” she says.

A higher standard

As OSHA guidelines become stricter, dental assistants are held to higher infection prevention standards, according to Nina Diasio, a dental assistant coach and OSHA/HIPAA compliance officer at Chicago-based Acierno Family Dentistry, a DecisionOne Dental Partners supported practice. Dental assistants today must incorporate more infection prevention and control protocols into their daily routine, she points out. “Complying with OSHA is a huge priority for all of our offices at DecisionOne Dental Partners,” she says. “We hire a third party to come in and make sure we are up to date on OSHA and HIPAA standards, as well as provide us with the necessary training to help us keep up with these new protocols.

Bloodborne pathogens can exist in any dental office, she continues. “We must ensure we protect the office team and our patients, each moment. OSHA is here to protect us. Its standards and protocols are constantly changing and we have to make sure we stay current.”