Denisse Velez, 24, obtained her education at Lincoln Technical Institute and has been working as a Dental Assistant for almost a year in Metheun, MA. Denisse has developed a passion for working in the dental industry and interacting with patients. Our conversation explores how she became a Dental Assistant, her experience and what a day in the life of a dental assistant entails.
Juliana: What is a Dental Assistant?
Denisse: A Dental Assistant is the person who assists the dentist during any dental work. We also have jobs we can do on our own. We make temporary crowns, we polish teeth, we can apply sealants on to kids’ teeth, we work in the lab, etc.
Juliana: Why did you decide to become a Dental Assistant?
Denisse: It kind of fell in my lap, to be honest. I knew I wanted to go back to school, and I took a tour of the dental classes at Lincoln Tech and I just felt that it was right for me.
Juliana: How was school for dental assisting?
Denisse: I liked everything in school except, I didn’t think I’d like dental assisting, I thought I only wanted to work in the lab. I felt like I had to do dental assisting in order to get a job, and it wasn’t until 3 to 4 months in that I started loving it.
Juliana: What do you mean when you say you work in a lab?
Denisse: In our office we clean and sterilize instruments, pour models (we take impression of someone’s teeth and send it to laboratories where they make crowns and dentures).
Juliana: How many classes did you need to take?
Denisse: There were 8 classes. Each of them lasted 4 weeks. Most of the classes prepared you for an exam in either infection control or radiology. You needed to pass those to exams in order to become a dental assistant. There were a couple of other classes that were about professionalism, how to conduct an interview, etc. Topics that were geared towards helping you find a job.
Juliana: Explain to me the process of becoming a dental assistant. How long did it take?
Denisse: It took a about a year to finish everything. It usually takes 10 months, but it took me a little longer because I had a full time job. In order to get your diploma, you have to complete an internship. I graduated before I got my actual certification, because it took me a few weeks longer to finish my internship.
Juliana: What did you do for your internship?
Denisse: My internship consisted mostly of observing the other assistants; I only got to assist during fillings because the dentist I interned for was a little picky. It was a private office, they operate a little differently than other types of offices.
Juliana: What does a typical day look like for a Dental Assistant?
Denisse: Usually, I go into work an hour early. I turn on the autoclave (a machine that sterilizes the instruments; it’s prepped the night before). I come in, and do everything that wasn’t done the night before. Take out trash, prep chairs for the patients. I basically make sure the office is clean and ready for patients. When the first patient comes, I bring them from the waiting room, and take x-rays if needed. Then, I bring them into the room, and I let the dentist know that the patient is ready, and I clean the x-ray room while the dentist is with the patient.
Once I finish cleaning I go into the room, see if the dentist needs anything. Sometimes I directly assist the dentist, depending on the procedure. I suction water mostly, get things for him, etc. Once the procedure is finished, I usually see the patient out and I provide them with information about how to take care of their teeth depending on what they had done. For example, if they get a filling, I let them know that their mouth may be numb for a little while. I take care of the “patient education” - that’s what we called it in school. I also let the patient know when and if they should make another appointment. I tell them what they need to tell the front desk. Then I clean the room, and if I have time I go into the lab and clean and stock everything. Then I continue doing that for the rest of the day.
Juliana: What do you like about dental assisting?
Denisse: The people. I really like talking the people. Sometimes patients get so comfortable with you that they talk about anything. It feels good; it’s very rewarding. I never go to work upset!
Juliana: What would you recommend for someone looking to pursue a Dental Assistant career?
Denisse: I would say, if you’re determined, do it! It’s hard work, but I love it! If you want to do it, work really hard, and you’ll do it too!
Juliana: Did you ever think you’d like working with teeth?
Denisse: No! I never thought I would. One day I was doing research and I happened upon dentistry, and it kind of clicked! I’m not going to say that teeth aren’t gross because they are, but they are also fascinating!
Juliana: Did the school help you find a job/ how difficult was it to find a job?
Denisse: Yes. The place where I work now called me because the school recommend me to them. The school kind of hooked me up! I’ve been working here since January 2017. I’ve almost been here a year!
Juliana: Last question, what has been your favorite interaction with a patient?
Denisse: During the first few months of working there, I assisted during a tooth extraction. The patient was so nervous; she was crying. Once we were done taking out all the teeth we needed to (we ended up making her a full set of dentures), she hugged me. She hugged me after every appointment. She would always bring me a little gift. She requested me; she only wanted me to assist during her procedures. It made me feel like I positively changed someone’s life. I made a difference!
Cambridge, MA. Recent graduate of UMass Lowell, passionate about healthcare development.
Waltham, MA. Passionate about oral health and maintaining his squeaky clean teeth.