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Dental Assistant Concerns During COVID-19

All across the country, dental team members are wondering how to perform dentistry during a pandemic. In several Facebook groups and dental community chats, people are asking questions about their personal safety, their patients' safety, and what the new normal will look like. And many team members are wondering if they want to return to the jobs they love.

In this video, Kevin Henry, the co-founder of IgniteDA.net and the editor-in-chief of DrBicuspid.com, talks to Patient Prism CEO Amol Nirgudkar about the very real concerns that dental assistants are grappling with - and some recommendations for dentists about the right way to respond.

Dental Assistants: Should I Return to Work?

It’s been an incredibly stressful time. Many dental assistants and other team members were  furloughed or laid off in March, and unemployment didn’t always fill the pay gap like many had hoped. In Florida, only 6% of all unemployment claims were processed in the first seven weeks of the pandemic. If you weren’t part of that small group, you didn’t get paid either state unemployment ($275) or federal unemployment ($600) and you went almost two months without income.

Now, many state governments are allowing dental practices to reopen for elective procedures. As of May 1, The CDC and OSHA still recommended only emergency dental services be provided. That’s caused a lot of confusion.

Many school districts across the country have announced that children will not be returning to the classroom this school year. That’s causing additional stress for working parents as they try to figure out daycare, especially when funds are tight.

On Facebook groups, blogs, and industry websites, team members are writing heart-felt messages like this one:

“Just wanted to get some thoughts and feedback from fellow assistants. Long term assistants with 25 years of experience but questioning if I want to go back. The risk and thought of working with all that PPE on top of all the other office responsibilities of cleaning seems painfully difficult. I question if the annual salary is really worth it.”

Battling and Beating Demons of Dental Assisting bookKevin Henry, who wrote the book “Battling and Beating the Demons of Dental Assisting” and who was named one of the Top 5 Influential Voices in Dentistry, said he’s talking to a lot of dental assistants who are feeling conflicted.

“There are a lot of dental assistants who are anxious to get back. These are the people in the practice who so often make that initial connection and keep that connection going strong between the patient and the business, and they want to start that again.

“And now they’re trying to figure out how safe is it to go back to work? They’re asking is this something I could bring back home to my family? Right now, I don’t sense that a lot of them have that feeling of security yet.”

What Dentists Should Say to Worried Team Members

In many cases, the dentists / practice owners went several weeks without communicating with their team members. In times of crisis, it’s more important than ever to be talking to the people you need to make your business successful.

“Even if you don’t know all the answers, it’s okay,” said Kevin Henry. “Just say we’re still figuring this out, but we’re going to do everything in the best interests of our team and our patients.”

It’s also important to realize different team members will have different factors to consider. Some might have childcare issues. Others might have a compromised immune system or live with something who does. Each person’s personal situation will impact how they feel about returning to work.

“I think an open, honest conversation that is very inclusive of everything that could be weighing on their mind is more critical now than ever,” said Kevin.

In the video, Kevin shares other tips for dentists.

Should Dental Assistants Be Paid More During COVID-19?

Most dental practices haven’t had regular income in several months, so it’s tough to even talk about pay raises. However, it’s an important conversation to have because it acknowledges the additional responsibilities that everyone in the dental practice will be shouldering.

“I had a dental assistant who told me, ‘I started looking around (while laid off) and Starbucks suddenly doesn’t look so bad. I could get a job there and be making almost the same as I’m making over here’,” Kevin Henry relayed.

The dental assistants are frequently the ones who are interacting with the patients the most, explaining what they need, how they can afford it, and how the patient’s health and safety is their top concern. If dentists can’t afford to give their dental assistants a raise now, then one idea is to still address the assistants’ compensation concerns and lay out a plan for when a raise could occur.

Providing Compassionate Care During COVID-19

So many dental team members got into healthcare because they love helping people. One woman wrote on Facebook, “This has the potential to take away some of the personal aspects of the job. As an assistant, my favorite part is the patient interaction. I always shake hands and introduce myself to patients. I offer a hand to those anxious people that need a little extra assurance, my patients hug me, and so on.”

Things will be different during the next few months.

“There’s going to be an emotional adjustment,” said Kevin Henry. “I encourage dental team members to remember how much you can express with the tone of your voice, the look in your eyes. We’re not going to be able to hug or high-five right now, but we can still find ways to connect.”

In some hospitals, medical personnel have pinned smiling pictures of themselves on their PPE so patients know what they look like. They said it’s helped to create a bond and reassure their patients.

Connecting with Other Dental Assistants

As we’ve all learned during the past few months, it’s vital to find ways to stay connected with other people who can understand us, comfort us when we’re having tough days, and inspire us to overcome.

Dental assistants can go to www.Facebook.com/IgniteDA to connect with other dental assistants. Also, www.DrBuspid.com is posting stories daily to help team members navigate this crisis.

Kevin Henry also taped a series of videos before COVID-19 that addresses many of the concerns dental assistants have just about their job on a regular day. Those videos are available on Academy.PatientPrism.com.

Additional Resources

Comeback Strategies for Dental Practices

ADA: Return to Work Interim Guidance Toolkit and ADA.org/virus

CDC: Interim Infection Prevention and Control Guidance for Dental Settings During the COVID-19 Response

CDC: Criteria for Return to Work for Healthcare Personnel with Suspected or Confirmed COVID-19 (Interim Guidance)

OSHA: Dentistry Workers and Employers COVID-19 Control and Prevention

For more interviews with experts, training resources, and guides, visit Academy.PatientPrism.com.

There will be a huge need for dentistry once people can resume normal activities. More people than ever will have questions about safety, affordable treatment options, and what’s covered by their insurance plans post-COVID. Visit PatientPrism.com/Overview to find out how we can help your team convert more callers into booked appointments.

About this Industry Leader:

Kevin Henry - Profile Pic

Kevin Henry

Consultant & Dental Assistant Advocate, Author & Champion of Dental Assistants

Kevin Henry is Editor in Chief for DrBicuspid.com and former Managing Editor for Dental Economics magazine. As an advocate for Dental Assistants, he co-founded IgniteDA.net to provide an online community for them and authored the book "Battling and Beating the Demons of Dental Assisting." He is a nationally-known speaker on topics that empower dental assistants, propel dental practice growth, and restore peace between the front office and back office teams.

In addition, Kevin is the former group editorial director for UBM Medica's dental division consisting of: Dental Products Report, Modern Dental Assistant, Modern Hygienist and many more magazines. He was named one of the top five influential voices in the dental industry on Twitter. Previously, he was a public relations director for NAIA, a national small college sports organization. He is currently a beat writer for the Colorado Rockies and the Denver Nuggets. He is also a member of the Speaking Consulting Network.

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