Unsung Heroes of Dentistry
By Dr. Fernando de la Pena
Dentistry is not an easy profession. I believe I have earned the right to make that statement. All day long you deal with disgruntled insurance companies, patients who expect to leave your office looking Hollywood-ish and the depressing effects of a struggling economy. All these juggled while your backs are arched and your eyes squinted. It is nonetheless a rewarding profession and I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.
Fresh out of college I came to the land of milk and honey in the early 90s. Since I didn’t have the license to practice yet, I did what most foreign dentists were doing, work as a dental assistant. This gives you a foot-in-the-door so to speak… establish connections, learn the tricks of the trade and most of all, prepare for four board exams that menacingly stared me in the eyes. Then there of course was the promise of a bi-monthly check in my pocket.
To be an assistant is not a walk in the park. You need to please three entities: the dentists, the patients and your co-workers. Have you been in a dental office where a procedure is performed with little or no words exchanged between the dentist and the assistant? That and to be able to deliver health care while being a few steps ahead of the dentist takes remarkable experience and know-how. A dental assistant has the artistic skills of a craftsman, the charm of a musician and the patience of a contestant in front of Simon Co well. They have contributed immensely to the dental profession but have never really basked in its glory since the spotlight is almost always focused on the guy with the DDS after his name. For this reason, nobody would argue with me that dental assistants are the unsung heroes of dentistry.
In our desire to impart knowledge and contribute to the profession by producing more of these healthcare workers, we established the Los Angeles School of Dental Assisting. As a DA for about four years and currently as a general dentist in Los Angeles, I have unique perspectives of the profession from two avenues. I know what dentists expect and I know how assistants feel. This gives me the chance to address both issues in our classroom and clinic. Further, we believe that with dedication and commitment to a two-evening per week class, the course could be completed in just three months at a fraction of the cost that other schools charge. Not a lot of facilities expose students to hands-on clinical experience in an actual dental office setting, another item we place in the student’s bag.
Dental Assistants are here to stay. It is not a dead-end job. I have had dental assistants who are now college teachers, office managers and hygienists enjoying fruitful careers. In Orange County alone, the projected job growth up to the year 2016 is 33.5%, the 11th fastest-growing occupation from 2006 through 2016, according to the EDD.
As dentists become more and more dependent on their invaluable services, the position only gets more and more etched into the work force. I have always admired people who would work hard and earn an honest buck. DAs are a classic example of this breed. So, the next time you visit your dentist, please show your appreciation to the dental assistant. You can never thank these people enough. Besides, they’re the ones who put the toothbrush in your goody bag!
Dr. Fernando de la Pena is the director of the Los Angeles School of Dental Assisting and the administrator of the De La Pena Dental Group located at 2701 Beverly Blvd. Los Angeles, Ca 90057. Their contact info: (213) 389-6211 www.losangelesdentalassistant.com and www.lasersandbraces.com.