A dentist with no dental hygienist .
November 18, 2007 9:30 AM   Subscribe

Is it acceptable practice for a dentist not to have an assistant?

A co-worker recently mentioned that his dentist doesn't have an assistant, just a secretary. Is this common? Is it a warning sign of a bad dentist? AFAIK, nobody has been recently fired and the dentist has been in his solo practice for at least 2 years.
posted by who squared to Health & Fitness (13 answers total)
My dentist has hygienists with decades of experience, who are amazingly great at doing intensive and thorough cleanings. It would be the rare dentist who is as good at cleanings as an experienced hygienist.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:42 AM on November 18, 2007

My childhood (60s) dentist didn't have an assistant nor did my orthodontist. It seems to have been the norm. In the late 70s a girlfriend entered a training program for dental assistants. She seemed to imply this change was not coming from the dentists, so seeing one without an assistant isn't shocking but still seems unusual.

My current dentist has multiple assistants and hygienists which allows him to have more patients in the office at the same time. If your friend's dentist has a fairly small practice, he just might not have enough business to justify the cost or may be short funds (could he be paying off loans still?).

I don't think it's a warning sign, but you might have trouble getting an appointment.
posted by tommasz at 9:42 AM on November 18, 2007

My dentist is a one man show. He does not have a hygienist, assistant, or a secretary. I don't think it is common, and it was a bit strange at first, but I'm comfortable with it. He is a competent dentist and does thorough cleanings.
posted by LoriFLA at 9:46 AM on November 18, 2007

My dentist has a secretary who also assists him as necessary. He is a little old fashioned without the overhead of many other dentists. I much prefer this to walking in to an office where there are 6 front office people and multiple assistants. They are there for billing insurance companies and it isn't a sign of a better practice, only a more bureaucratic one. My previous dentist with the large front office staff sent me an overdue notice 6 days after my visit (which insurance was paying for 100%) and also gave me aggressive unnecessary treatment plans in the thousands of dollars. It was all about the money. If your dentist isn't overrun by staff, he might like a small personal practice where treatment is done as needed and not to pay a large overhead.
posted by 45moore45 at 9:47 AM on November 18, 2007

My dentist growing up was a one-man show. His wife occasionally was the secretary. I didn't see a hygenist until I was in my mid-twenties. I believe he still operates this way (I moved and go elsewhere). He was a fine dentist--I think it was an old fashioned (and money saving) thing for him.
The only bad thing was--when the secretary wasn't there--he'd answer the phone in the middle of cleaning my teeth! I liked him though, good guy and good dentist.
posted by jdl at 9:51 AM on November 18, 2007

I would find it extremely odd for a dentist not to have an assistant nowadays. I can understand having no hygienist, as none of my dentists have had one of those. In my experience, the assistant has a lot of work to do during procedures. She's usually setting up tools, warming up various light guns and things they seem to use, mixing up the stuff they use for fillings, and passing the dentist tools and various syringes and things while the dentist is deep inside my mouth.

The assistant also handles the vacuum thing (sorry, don't know what it's really called) while the dentist is drilling to prevent shards of teeth flying around. I can't see how a dentist could do that at the same time.
posted by wackybrit at 10:06 AM on November 18, 2007

My childhood dentist - back in the 80s - was a one-man-show as well. Word on the grapevine was that he was too cheap to hire a hygenist or a secretary, but my family never had any complaints about him.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:28 AM on November 18, 2007

An assistant just allows the dentist to get more done in a shorter time. It is mainly about efficiency - this allows faster patient turnover.

There is a few occasions that he may need an extra hand (the vacuum thing) but it is not necessarily any reflection on his ability, more on his profitability. The difficult bits are still being done by a trained person (presumably they have the correct accreditations) if he hasn't got an assistant, they're just not being done as quickly.

As such, I wouldn't worry. The increased difficulty of getting an appointment may be relevant to you, though.
posted by Brockles at 10:33 AM on November 18, 2007

Well, extremely small medical practices are a current trend. It avoids the hassle of additional staffing, misunderstandings in communications, etc.. It would not shock me for this to be occuring in the dental community for the same reasons. Maybe I'm nuts, but I think that having all the work done by the dentist himself should be a premium product. Not sure the insurance company agrees, but hey.
posted by ilsa at 11:06 AM on November 18, 2007

my current dentist is a one woman show - she manages just fine even with the vacuum thing...she uses little cotton roll things to wedge things in place...admittedly it takes a bit longer than it does with a dentist with assistant but it is a lot cheaper and she works until 8pm which suits me in terms of my own work schedule.
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:28 AM on November 18, 2007

My dentist does everything. I kind of assume that if there were something big going on, his, er, secretary/assistant (whoever it is that answers the phone) is trained to help out, but I don't really know. It seems that maybe when I've had x-rays, she assisted, but I don't recall for sure. And he's good, and the dentist from whom he took over the practice was good.
posted by iguanapolitico at 11:47 AM on November 18, 2007

Depends on the dentist, and what you're having done. Most have a hygienist these days, who does the cleaning (which may be all you need that visit). After the cleaning, the dentisit takes a look, and if you need more work it might happen then, or during a subsequent visit.

If this subsequent trip involves complicated work, an assistant can be useful, just like with any other medical priocedure. Note that the assistant isn't the hygenist -- my current dentist has at least one of each in the office at any given time, but in other places, they may be wearing both hats.

But this support staff comes and goes in the office of my ultra-competent back-east dentist, and if they aren't in that day, he makes do. This guy even does his own root canals (most dentists refer you on to a specialist, for those).
posted by Rash at 1:57 PM on November 18, 2007

My dentist is also a one-man show. He does excellent work. I have been to dentists with hygenists, who weren't half as good. He is very meticulous and precise, and I think having had his set way of doing things for a long time (decades) has allowed him to not need any assistance.
posted by veronitron at 7:44 PM on November 18, 2007

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