Dental assistants: Do you really know what you legally can and can't do in the practice?

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Group editorial director Kevin Henry tells dental assistants about a Web site that lists what each state allows and doesn't allow dental assistants to do in the practice

As I lecture around the country to dental assistants, there’s one thing that I notice time and time again. Many dental assistants don’t know the exact clinical procedures that they can and can’t do in the practice … and that’s a very important part of your job that every dental assistant should know beyond the shadow of a doubt.

I realize that many of you who are reading this may be “on-the-job-trained” dental assistants and learned much of what you do every day from your dentist or another dental assistant in the practice who may have worked there for a few years. There’s nothing wrong with learning from others in the practice … as long as what you’re being taught is actually accurate and legal.

More for assistants: How to deal with difficult patients

If you’ll remember the case of the oral surgeon in Tulsa and all of the problems that were caused by his actions, the dental assistants who worked in the practice were vilified in the media once news of what was going on behind the scenes was uncovered. Dental assistants were reportedly administering anesthesia for patients who were undergoing sleep dentistry procedures. When they were informed that that was not permitted under Oklahoma’s dental laws, their only excuse was, “We were told it was OK.” Well … it wasn’t and their ignorance of the law caused big problems for themselves and their families. It also resulted in a black eye for the dental assisting profession.


Do you know what you legally can and can’t do in your state? If your dentist asked you to do a new procedure tomorrow, would you know with confidence that that was allowed under your state’s dental laws? There’s an easy way to find out.

I strongly encourage you to go to the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) Web site and research what your state allows dental assistants to do. Every state is listed there and this is a tremendous resource that every dental assistant should be checking on a regular basis. DANB does an excellent job providing this free resource for dental assistants. Check it out. You may be surprised at what your state allows and forbids you to do on a daily basis.

More for dental assistants: Professionalism: Are you acting the part?

Dental assistants are an integral part of the practice. Your hard work and dedication to your patients makes a difference in lives every day. I believe it’s vital that you are protected in every way possible. Take a moment and do some research. Protect yourself from problems that may occur down the road if your practice is doing something unethical or unprofessional. Your career is worth it … and there’s nothing more important than knowing you’re doing the right thing every day … for your patients and your family.