Dental Assistants play an important role in the delivery of high quality patient care. The role performs duties during each stage of patient care: pre-examination, examination assistance, and post treatment. The dentist’s ability to efficiently and properly complete examinations and procedures depends on the effectiveness of the Dental Assistant.
A qualified candidate will have proven experience as a Dental Assistant, have successfully completed a CODA-accredited program, and be well-versed in all aspects of patient care. It is essential that your candidate can demonstrate technical skills such as sterilizing, organizing and passing dental instruments; performing suctioning; studying casts, retrieving, preparing, and exposing x-rays; and maintaining x-ray and other dental office equipment. Technical skills should be complemented by practical skills such as seating and draping patients, reading patient records, and informing patients of post-operative instructions, oral hygiene, and plaque control. Administrative tasks like scheduling appointments and handling payments are highly valued.
General interview questions (such as “Can you tell me about yourself?” and “Why are you looking for another job?”) are a great way to get to know your candidate’s personal history, interests and goals. However, be sure to add inquiries specific to the role they’re interviewing for, so you can gain valuable insights into their likelihood of success in that position.
Below are Dental Assistant interview questions to help you get started:
What is your process for taking an alginate impression?
What you want to hear: A strong candidate will explain the process step by step for making a replica of the patient’s teeth, gingiva, and surrounding tissue. They will describe how to mix the material, the size tray to use, how to position the tray in the patient’s mouth, and the material setting time. They will also discuss the differences in tray positioning and removal when taking lower versus upper impressions.
Red flag: A candidate who cannot recite the process they undertake for alginate impressions, or any other procedure, cannot be relied upon to properly perform the actual task and achieve the necessary outcome.
What dental practice management software are you familiar with?
What you want to hear: Computer literacy is a critical skill for Dental Assistants. Candidates should be able to detail experience with general software such as Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, etc.) and dental-specific software such as Dentix to chart and document notes, schedule appointments, and submit claims to insurance companies.
Red flag: The less computer literacy a candidate brings, whether with general or dental-specific software, the more training your staff will be required to provide to improve the candidate’s dental assisting skills. Be sure to administer actual tests in the interview process to assess literacy and an aptitude for learning new software.
How do you prepare for a patient’s arrival?
What you want to hear: The importance of this question is to see how well a candidate balances administrative and technical duties. A strong candidate will recognize that planning ahead is vital to the efficiency of dental office operations. They should discuss checking the scheduled appointments for the next arrival, reviewing the patient’s medical and dental histories, determining procedure needs such as x-rays or surgery, and preparing the examination room, dental supplies, and equipment as appropriate.
Red flag: A candidate who cannot articulate a clear plan of action in advance of a patient’s arrival is waving a red flag. Failing to be proactive and timely with any one patient’s visit can wreak havoc on the office’s ability to stay on track with the schedule throughout the remainder of the day.
I’m a patient and I don’t really understand why I need my cavity filled right now. How would you explain it to me?
What you want to hear: Not infrequently, patients will resist a recommended treatment plan because of the anticipated discomfort or cost. An important part of the Dental Assistant’s job is to help the patient understand the consequences of foregoing or delaying action on dental services. Listen for a candidate who will calmly explain and illustrate the condition, what will happen to oral health if the condition is left untreated, and how the treatment will be administered. For example, they might say, “I would show a patient the image of the deteriorating tooth. I would explain that as the tooth continues to deteriorate, the surrounding gums and the nerves in the tooth will be affected as well. By acting now we can save the tooth by removing the decay and filling the cavity. If you delay, your pain will increase and as a result we will likely require a more invasive procedure to manage infection control and fix the problem, such as root canal or tooth extraction. I may also further explain teeth anatomy with models and drawings.”
Red flag: A Dental Assistant who doesn’t have the communication skills and chairside patience to educate a patient about the dangers of ignoring a recommended dental procedure is failing to provide quality patient care.
Do you handle patient care differently when working with children versus adults?
What you want to hear: Many people, both children and adults, fear going to the dentist. An excellent Dental Assistant recognizes this fact and will work hard to make the experience as comfortable as possible for the patient. Look for a candidate with a toolkit of ideas for how to approach patients of all ages. For example, the candidate might distract children with a toy or the offer of a toy after the visit. For an adult, more real time information about what’s being done (such as a discussion of topical anesthetics and postoperative instructions) may remove some anxiety.
Do you consider yourself a team player?
What you want to hear: A Dental Assistant is expected to work effectively and efficiently with dentists, dental hygienists, and administrators. Listen for a candidate who can discuss the role as critical to the smooth operations of the dental office. A strong candidate will list qualities such as their interpersonal skills, punctuality, eagerness to learn, willingness to attend training programs and maintain dental assistant certification, and desire to succeed as an individual and a group.
Red flag: A candidate who is solely focused on their own duties without regard for how their role affects other members of the office team is a high risk for frustrating colleagues and reducing office productivity.
Every interview question can help get you closer to the right fit for your Dental Assistant position.
Be sure to keep an eye out for candidates who:
- Have experience in all stages of patient care
- Bring excellent technical and administrative skills
- Are current with all applicable certifications