Team spirit


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dental assistants implant procedures
 Photo: Harrison Baker, Next Smile Australia 

When it comes to dental implants, there’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’. So why are so many dental assistants not formally trained in best-practice implant procedures? By Shane Conroy

Most dentists will agree that dental implants are a team effort. The dentist, of course, is the primary decision-maker and orchestrator of the entire dental implant treatment process. But various practice staff members each have specific roles and responsibilities within the process.

There’s the administration assistant or treatment coordinator who needs to schedule appointments for the various stages of the treatment, including surgeries, follow-ups and prosthesis placements. They may also be called on to answer patient questions about the treatment process, aftercare, and potential complications.

Then an oral health therapist or dental hygienist may also enter the scene to provide pre- and post-treatment care and education. And your trusty dental assistant will likely be chairside to provide crucial support during both the surgical and prosthetic phases of the implant treatment.

So if dental implants require a team-based approach, why is it often only the dentist who receives formal implant training? That’s a question that stumps Rochelle Fisher, an experienced dental surgical assistant and the founder of Dental Assisting and Beyond. She says her experience as a dental surgical assistant in the UK was very different to what she encountered when she moved to Australia.

“In England, dental education is very different,” she explains. “We’re actually classed as dental nurses in England, so we have to be registered and do continuing education. When I came to Australia, I was surprised that we don’t have to be registered or do any further education.”

Dental assistants are not mind-readers

Instead, Fisher says many dental assistants are simply trained on the job by the dentist or other practice staff. This can lead to a few problems, including low employee morale.

“Without the proper training, I feel that dental assistants are sometimes expected to read the dentist’s mind,” she says. “They receive no formal surgical training, may get a quick on-the-job training session by other busy staff, and then, in some clinics,  are expected to know exactly how to assist in complex implant procedures.” 

It’s easy to see why that situation would get you down. But that’s only the first entry on the list of problems a lack of team training can cause. Fisher says it’s crucial for dentists to understand that they may be trusting their registration to a dental assistant with no qualification in implant dentistry.

“It’s not a problem until it’s a problem,” she says. “You only need one patient to complain about something, and the dental board might come in and look at everything you do.

“Implant equipment is really expensive too. I’ve been in practices where no one knows how to look after the equipment, and dentists are getting annoyed because they’re paying another $1000 to replace yet another piece of equipment that has not been looked after properly.”

Closing the knowledge gap

Fisher founded Dental Assisting and Beyond to help close this critical knowledge gap and improve the standard of foundational training for dental assistants and dental support staff. She offers time-efficient training courses that are based on a whole-team approach to ensure every team member understands their role in the implant treatment process.

“We’ve recently launched an eight-week online course called ‘101 Implant Fundamentals’. The course is divided into eight 60- to 90-minute weekly training sessions, however participants have 12-month access to the course materials to suit busy dental staff that may need a self-paced learning option.

Fisher explains that the course covers everything from the different types of implants to proper after-care procedures. It also educates dental staff on the order of treatment, the correct instruments to prepare, surgical hygiene and personal protective equipment procedures, how to prepare a sterile environment, and how to maintain surgical equipment.

“The course also covers the administration aspect of the implant treatment process, which is equally important,” she adds. “We teach dental teams how to put the correct paperwork in place to help cover the practice against legal proceedings, and how to maintain proper documentation to keep the treatment process running smoothly.

“We also cover aftercare, implant restoration, and verbal skills to help dental staff keep patients informed, and confidently answer any questions patients may have throughout their implant treatment.” 

Foundations of success

Dentists are also invited to take Fisher’s course. She says it can be an opportunity for dentists to review their own implant processes and procedures against the course material to identify any gaps or potential bottlenecks. 

But the course isn’t just about boosting procedural efficiency. It also focuses on improving patient communication, which is just as critical to achieving successful treatment outcomes and high levels of patient satisfaction.

“I believe some patients are not being educated enough about their implant treatments,” Fisher says. “Patients are investing a lot of time, effort and money into this, and while it might not seem like a big procedure to us, it can be a life-changing surgery for patients. 

“So from the moment they pick up the phone to make an appointment, patients need to feel like they are cared about and are in good hands. That extends beyond the dentist. It’s as much about how their enquiry is managed at the front desk, and whether all staff the patient encounters at the practice are capable of answering their questions and providing the information they need to get the best out of their experience.”

It’s a simple team-based approach that just about every sports coach understands is a foundational element to the success of any team. 

“If you want an amazing football team, you don’t just train the goalie and then expect everyone else on the team to be able to play a winning game,” Fisher concludes. “It doesn’t happen like that. Even though they’re all playing different parts, they train together to understand each other’s role.”  

Rochelle Fisher is offering a 10% discount on her implant training course if people use the code BITEMAG.

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