How the Coronavirus Pandemic Affects the Role of the Dental Assistant

Dental assisting is a great career for anyone interested in working in the growing healthcare industry but who does not want to spend years earning a degree. Dental assistants work with dentists and dental hygienists to assist with patients, sterilize and clean, do administrative tasks and educate patients.

During the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the role of the dental assistant is shifting. If you are still working, you may be concerned about your own safety. You may even be out of work, as many dentists close their offices.

Maintaining a Clean Workplace

Dental assistants are often responsible for cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and tools in dental offices. This is an important role as it minimizes the spread of disease between dental professionals and patients.

Viruses and bacteria can be transferred from surface to surface and from a patient’s mouth and saliva. During dental exams and procedures, a patient’s saliva and mucus can be ejected from their mouths. This can spread pathogens directly on to dental workers but also onto equipment, surfaces and tools.

If you are still working during the pandemic, this role becomes even more important. You may need to spend more time sanitizing, even cleaning surfaces multiple times per day. To slow the spread of disease, surfaces and objects touched throughout the day need to be disinfected regularly.

Increased Risk of Infection

Even during normal times, dental assistants must follow safety procedures and use protective equipment to reduce the risk of contracting an infectious disease. Such close contact with patients puts dental assistants at a greater risk of infections of various kinds than many other types of workers.

Continuing to work during the pandemic increases your risk of getting sick. To reduce the risk, you should have access to personal protective equipment: face shields, masks, safety glasses and gloves. You should also expect to have a clean workplace and disinfecting cleaners if it is your responsibility to sanitize surfaces and objects.

To protect yourself if still working, insist on protective equipment. There have been shortages, but you should not have to reuse surgical masks or be expected to work without sanitized equipment. Wash your hands often and avoid touching your face.

Loss of Work for Dental Assistants

As communities struggle to slow the spread of the disease and hospitals get overwhelmed with patients with COVID-19, many dental offices are closing temporarily. Some are closed completely, while others are open only for emergencies.

The American Dental Association collected data through March 23 and found that 76 percent of dental offices were still open but only seeing emergency patients. Nineteen percent of offices had shut down completely by then. The few still open were seeing far fewer patients than usual.

This is important for slowing the spread of the disease, but it puts dental assistants in the difficult position of having their pay reduced or eliminated. Dentists may choose to apply for economic injury disaster loans and paycheck protection loans. This can help dentists pay their employees, including dental assistants, until they are able to reopen fully. You can also take steps independently to get through this difficult time, such as applying for unemployment.

The coronavirus pandemic won’t last forever. But while it continues, it wreaks havoc on so many. For dental assistants, safety at work and lack of work are two of the major impacts. Take steps to protect yourself and to advocate for your rights during this time as well as any funding to which you are entitled.