Why Dental Nurses are Essential for Successful Dental Practices

16th Jun 2023

Dental nurses are said to be the heart of the dental practice. Their roles are intertwined into key processes in the dental environment that enables efficiency, organisation and patient comfort. Without dental nurses carrying out complex procedures would overload the clinician, preventing them focusing on the procedure at hand and cause unnecessary stress. This is especially relevant for anxious patients, where management would be extremely difficult without the help a dental nurse to look after them during the treatment.

Additionally, treatment would suffer delays as disinfection and decontamination is a skill that requires attention to detail and adequate time to complete. Dental nurses also advise patients about how to care for their teeth and therefore reinforcing good oral hygiene behaviours amongst patients. Now let’s take a look at how dental nurses ensure the above.

The Responsibilities of Dental Nurses

  • Checking dental equipment first thing in the morning and ensuring that this is working. This involves dental chair checks as well as other equipment like the x-ray, disinfection and sterilisation machines and any issues are reported early to the clinician and the practice manager. All these different equipment’s are vital for the running of the treatments in a dental practice and without them the treatments will need to be postponed.
  • Setting up the surgery for dental treatments. Depending on the procedure carried out dental nurses will ensure the appropriate equipment is readily available. There is a great variety in dental procedures from examination to oral surgery or orthodontics for example.
  • Assisting the clinician during treatment by: aspirating, reassuring and checking in with the patient, mixing and handing instruments to the clinician. A great deal of dexterity, dental knowledge and patient care skills are required for a dental nurse to provide effective support to the dentist.
  • Carrying out infection prevention and decontamination tasks to ensure the dental surgery and the instruments are clean and tidy. After the procedure has finished all equipment and instruments need to be sterilised. This process has several steps and requires time and careful attention to ensure that upon completion of sterilisation the instruments are ready to be reused. The environment that you have worked in needs to be made safe for the next patient through disposal of contaminated materials in appropriate waste and disinfection of the dental chair, sideboards and pretty much anything that has been in contact with the patient. This process can be faster in dental appointment like exams or review where fewer instruments are used and little aerosol is generated. On the contrary, more time is required for complex procedures like fillings or root canals, which can involve a whole suite of instruments of different kinds and drills which throw spray all around the room.
  • Chart teeth and record notes dictated by the clinician. Dental nurses have extensive dental knowledge and can help the dentist record patient information accurately. The programs that keep the patient details can be different from one practice to other and dental nurses may be familiar with more than one system.
  • Ensure plenty of stock is available. A great deal of organisation and diligence is required to ensure that equipment and material are available when needed.
  • Prepare laboratory work to be sent off. Impressions of prosthetic work require careful handling to ensure that minimal distortion occurs before these arrive at the dental laboratory. These also require to be disinfected prior to dispatch to prevent germ spread to those handling the impressions at the lab.
  • Process dental radiographs. Although dental nurse cannot take radiographs themselves (unless adequately trained and qualified) they process radiographs, and the procedure is technique sensitive. Some dental nurses might be skilled in both film and digital radiography.
  • Help during medical emergencies. Dental nurses are also trained in managing medical emergencies which maximises the people that can offer help in such circumstances.
  • Give appropriate patient advice. Whenever this is needed, the dental nurse can give basic oral hygiene advice including information of brushing, interdental cleaning or increase awareness of oral cancer for example.

There is a tremendous amount that dental nurses do and now we will discuss how these actions benefit the clinician, the patient and the overall dental practice.

The Benefits of Skilled Dental Nurses

Smooth running of dental procedures

An old saying says that ‘preparation is key’ to a successful outcome and a large part of this is ensured by dental nurses. By ensuring that all the needed equipment is available, the clinician can focus solely on the procedure without the worry about the logistics of the procedure. Imagine trying to perform oral surgery or a root canal treatment without a dental nurse. That sounds like an absolute nightmare. Practically impossible! It would take a very long time to set up and undertake the procedure, but it can also be dangerous for the patient due to the inappropriate retraction and sharp instrument used as well as increase chance of cross infection.

Some materials are time sensitive, and teamwork is essential to avoid quick setting or poorer treatment outcomes. Other checks like ensuring that lab work required for the day is available ensures a smooth running of the day and avoids delays for the patient.

Reduced stress on the clinician

The day list in a dental practice can change throughout the day due to additional emergency or cancelled appointments. This can be stressful as it requires organisation of equipment, adaptability, communication and coordination amongst all team members. Dental nurses help by taking the pressure away by ensuring the dental surgery is ready to see the next patient regardless of the procedure, whilst the clinician attends to notes and prepares ahead of seeing the patient. By working with a dental nurse there is less increased strain on the back as they facilitate provision of instruments without having to constantly change position to pick up instruments. The dentist is able to manage the task at hand and focus on delivering a high standard of care for the patient. Ultimately, by creating a calm yet efficient environment the dental nurses can grow their knowledge and skills.

Increased patient’s comfort

Having the help from the dental nurse will most importantly benefit the patient. When the clinician and the dental nurse work well together the treatment time is reduced and there is greater comfort for the patient. This can help patients that cannot keep their jaw open for too long or have a strong gagging reflex. Some patients may feel anxious about seeing the dentist and the presence of the dental nurse helps lower their anxiety. A good experience at the dentist is vital for ensuring that patients feel happy to come back to us and that we can help them maintain their oral health and their smiles for life.

In summary, the dental nurse is a pivotal component of the dental team and without their presence dental care would be greatly impacted. There is great benefit to be gained for the clinician, other members of the team, as well as the patient.