Inside Dental Assisting
Ann Lensing, CDA, LDA, BA
Minneapolis Community and Technical College
Prospective dental assistants often hear about the diversity of the profession and the opportunities that will allow them to use a wide range of skills, continue their education, and explore different aspects of oral healthcare. This month’s Inside Dental Assisting cover story highlights this diversity, as we feature two dental team members, Ann Lensing and Chrissy Clark—a mother and daughter—who represent the educational and practice management pathways.
After graduating from the dental assisting program at University of Minnesota, Ann Lensing, CDA, LDA, BA, worked in private practice for 5 years. Afterwards, in 1972, she moved into dental assisting education at various community colleges, including Hennepin Technical College, Century College, and currently at Minneapolis Community and Technical College.
During her career, Lensing has witnessed the “move from the pre-technology days into the technology we have today. It’s been an exciting revolution,” she says. “When I started teaching, there were no computers. I’ve experienced the complete updating of education to laptops and online courses. It’s been amazing to be a part of that change.”
Chrissy Clark arrived at dentistry through another route. After graduating from Hamline University with a degree in psychology, she managed a dance studio for a few years. In 2002, Lensing introduced her to the idea of dentistry as a place where she could use her skills. “I worked in the business office side, beginning as a patient service coordinator,” Clark says. In 2005, she became practice manager, and has continued in that position at various practices of different sizes. Until recently, she managed two practices concurrently.
“I work with such great people—the patients, staff, and dentists,” Clark says. “I never thought I’d have the chance to use my psychology degree, because I’m not in that field. But I use my degree on a daily basis, working with all the different types of people I encounter.”
As Clark explains, practice management is an extensive partnership among the clinical staff, dentists, hygienists, assistants, and the business and profession of dentistry. “Everything has to work hand-in-hand,” she says. “You can’t have a practice with clinicians and no business management, because patients wouldn’t be scheduled appropriately. And you can’t have a business without quality patient care. It’s a balance between the clinical and the administrative sides. I believe you’ll be most successful if you respect the partnership and strengthen it.”
A great deal of responsibility lies with the dental assistant. “While other staff may be more specialized, the dental assistants handle more materials and instruments, communicate with the patients—they deal with so many components that are key to the practice,” Clark says. “For example, even when they answer the phone, they are the connection to the patient, who needs and expects help. It’s a big job.”
Lensing adds, “For anyone considering dental assisting as a career, I’d say first you have to be passionate about dentistry—have some joy in your heart for it. You also need to be a people person, because no matter which aspect of dental assisting you choose—clinical, business, or education—you will need people skills.” Lately, Lensing has seen increased opportunities for professionals to serve the public through volunteering. “In the last few decades, people in dentistry have really stepped forward, for example with community dental clinics, to give back and care for the underserved.”
Recently both Lensing and Clark received recognition for their efforts. In 2010, Lensing received the outstanding dental assistant service award from St. Paul District Dental Society, “which meant a great deal, because it came from my peers and from within my own community,” she says. In 2011, one of the dental practices Clark managed was awarded Metro Dentalcare’s most improved practice of the year. “It was a great honor to be selected out of 40 locations to be the most improved from 2010,” Clark explains.
In contemplating the direction of the profession, Clark and Lensing share their unique perspectives gained from their experience. Lensing speaks about more utilization of the present expanded functions that licensed dental assistants have been educated to perform. “After their education, some of the profession become more involved in tasks that may not utilize them to their full potential,” she explains. “I’d like to see them become empowered and encouraged to use all the skills and credentials that they have achieved.”
Dental assisting offers many opportunities for lifelong education, Lensing points out. “Individuals who work on the business side with scheduling, insurance, or as a practice manager—if they make the decision they would like to be more clinically inclined, there are night programs with training to the clinical aspect. And for someone who is a clinician or interested in becoming more involved with dentistry, there are professional courses available on the business and management aspects.”
For her part, Clark is excited about the development of technology to help with patient care and advance the profession. “In our practice, we use a digital patient record, digital radiographs, and intraoral cameras, for example,” she says. “I find that technology allows us to help patients faster, especially patients who are in pain and need to get to a specialist. The process is more streamlined—we can give specialists the information immediately, so we can take care of the needs of the patient.
“In addition, on a routine basis, we can remind patients of their maintenance appointments and answer questions for them. It makes the entire dental experience better, easier, and more convenient for them.”
Throughout the discussion, Clark and Lensing continually return to the concept of the team in oral healthcare. “The team you are a part of may ebb and flow, and there are personalities to deal with, and occasionally a situation in which the team doesn’t gel,” Lensing explains. “However, if you work at maintaining a solid relationship, this is a wonderful profession. I’ve worked with many respected, dedicated, creative people.”
Clark agrees. “I’ve been personally blessed with the people I work with,” she says. “The greatest success is the team. Instead of compartmentalizing and saying ‘that’s their job,’ we agree that it’s everyone’s job to take care of what needs to be done.”
Both Lensing and Clark agree fully on what the number one focus of dental assisting is, and how to maintain the quality and integrity from the classroom, to the office, to chairside. “The practice is most successful when the team understands that the number one focus is patient care, and we work together toward that goal,” Clark concludes. Lensing agrees, “Responsibility, integrity, passion for dentistry have to be within anyone who takes on dentistry in any form. Our mantra is that the patient is number one. They need our care, our time, and our focus.”
If you know people in the dental assisting community who should be highlighted as our cover story for their dedication and contributions to the profession, please contact Catherine Paulhamus at 215-504-1275, ext 213, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.