Inside Dental Assisting
Carol K. Oeder,
CDA, COA, CPFDA, CDPMA, CRFDA, FADAA, LPN
Carol K. Oeder became a dental assistant by accident—in the form of a persistent neighbor who knew of a job opening with a local general dentist. It would be the first of such accidents, as Oeder calls them.
“I went in and applied for the job to get my neighbor to be quiet. Part of me hoped I wouldn’t get hired because I was scared to death of the dentist,” Oeder says. “I was very young. I didn’t even like the smell or noises of a dental office. But much to my surprise, the doctor hired me.”
As it turned out, this accident became a very fortunate one. Oeder, now a dental assistant for the past 52 years, says this dentist, Dr. Y.O. Morris, who hired her gave her the direction she was seeking to shape her life. With Dr. Morris as her mentor, she became an impassioned dental assistant who continued to be a role model for others throughout her life.
“He started out with somebody who was not a very good dental patient. But he was such a key person in my life because he believed more in me than I believed in myself. He saw something in me that I wasn’t able to see,” Oeder says.
A lifelong learner, Oeder now has a number of certifications through the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) on her resume: Certified Dental Assistant, Certified Orthodontic Assistant, Certified Preventive Functions Dental Assistant, Certified Restorative Functions Dental Assistant, and Certified Dental Practice Management Dental Assistant. She is also a fellow of the American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA), a licensed practical nurse, and a graduate of the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons anesthesia assistants program. Oeder was also nominated by DANB certificants to the DANB board of directors.
As Oeder pursued these certifications, the fellowship, and the nursing degree, she recalled Dr. Morris’ example. “He was a strong believer in education,” Oeder says, recalling his gift of her first dental assistant textbook, which she still uses today. Even when Oeder was in the midst of raising her five children, she followed his advice, choosing to remain active in the profession by attending dental assistant association meetings and functions and working part-time as a dental assistant in pediatrics and orthodontics. She even brought her children with her to association meetings, and as they grew older, they traveled with her on her volunteer trips to Haiti.
“I saw myself as a role model for my children,” Oeder says, noting that this proved invaluable for them, helping to shape their career paths. Eventually, this worked both ways. When one of her children decided to go to nursing school, Oeder decided she would, too.
Oeder has a passion for helping people, which is evidenced by her work as an organizer of volunteer trips for dental assistants and dentists to render care to indigent patients in Haiti. On one trip, Oeder saw hospitalized patients who were in the active stages of dying. So she obtained a nursing degree to enhance her care for dental patients.
Today, Oeder is a compliance specialist/internal auditor for Dental Associates, where she has been employed for 13 years. Her job enables her to use all her dental assisting and nursing skills and knowledge to help keep patients and staff safe and maintain a high quality of care.
“I never could have done this job without the experiences that I’ve had. Could I have jumped right into this? No. It takes all of those lifelong experiences and the credentials to be able to do this,” Oeder says.
Her “accidental” career is a good example of the diverse jobs for which dental assistants are qualified. “What motivates me is my passion for dental assisting. Dental assisting is so broad, and there are so many opportunities. It’s not just sitting chairside. And I think I can speak for that because I’ve been able to experience so many of those opportunities,” she says.
Four or five years ago, Oeder was a traveling dental assistant on the weekends to various military bases throughout the United States, even venturing to Hawaii and Puerto Rico. She also worked at Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin for 10 years as a dental assistant instructor, training people who have faced obstacles to employment.
During her teaching years, Oeder saw in her students that version of herself that Dr. Morris must have observed—eager with a strong work ethic but uncertain of the unknown. So she prodded them to achieve.
“At my current job, I still see my former students, who are still dental assistants. They are happy and successful, and they are respected,” Oeder says. Perhaps one of the reasons for their success is the advice that Oeder shared with them—including the idea that having children should never be considered a hindrance or reason for not doing something for their careers.
“Children are why we do the things we do every day,” she says. “If your employer is asking you to attend a meeting that is out of town, go! Don’t use children as an excuse for not doing something; they are why you should.”
When Goodwill decided to end the dental assisting training program, her relationship with Goodwill advisory board members led her to her current position at Dental Associates, which owns 11 dental offices in Wisconsin. However, Oeder continues lives in Georgia. She says she doesn’t mind the 1,000-mile commute because she is able to work from home for several weeks at a time.
“It doesn’t matter which desk I am sitting at. For instance, if I’ve done internal audits and I have to compile all of that or if I have to update our safety manual, I’m going to be spending a lot of time at a computer somewhere. As I travel back and forth, I can access all of my documents,” she says. Oeder loves her job too much to consider retirement just yet, crediting her love of the work to great relationships with her supervisor and the staff. Even when she does retire, she plans to continue providing dental care to the underserved in Appalachia and participating in the Give Kids A Smile program on a local level.
In the meantime, Oeder continues to serve her second of two 3-year terms as Certificant-at-Large on DANB’s Board of Directors. Oeder became involved with the organization because she wanted to effect change. “There are currently no national standards for dental assisting, and each state determines its own education, exam, and credential requirements,” she explains. “With DANB, I have the opportunity to help set guidelines that govern the national certification for dental assistants.”
Oeder encourages other dental assistants to follow their own paths of lifelong learning. The credentials after an assistant’s name incurs respects, she notes. “As I did more, I became more confident. I knew that I had nothing to lose and everything to gain—absolutely everything,” Oeder says.