Top 10 Things Dental Assistants Can Do When the Doctor is Out of the Office Unexpectedly

April 4, 2023

Have you ever been getting ready for the workday, or even on the way to work when you get a message that the Doctor will be out of the office at the last minute for a certain reason or another. Maybe you already clocked in for the day and are wondering what to do now? Well, a lot of people don’t have the luxury of just taking the day off. Sometimes just because the Doctor is out of the office, doesn’t mean you can have the day off anyways. This all depends on how busy the office is, what the manager has in mind, what hours you are needing to work, common dental assistant duties, etc. With all of these factors in play, for whatever reason, here is a list of ten things you can do around the office to help make the day go by quicker!

1. Deep cleaning

Unless your office has a hired cleaning crew, cleaning the office space is one of the dental assistant duties. It can be office members taking turns, going off of a checklist, designated space to certain people to clean, etc. However your office does it, this is one of the top ways to take advantage of downtime. When you’re working in a very busy dental office, there typically is limited time for cleaning bathrooms, reception area, dusting, scrubbing, the list goes on. Tackling these projects in downtime will keep your office patient friendly, and OSHA compliant as well. You can also keep better track of your dental inventory system by getting rid of expired supplies or items you no longer need in the office.

2. Organizing

Who doesn’t love to be organized? It makes the day flow a lot easier, so take advantage of the downtime by organizing your space! Using this time to go through everything and label cabinets, put things in their rightful place again, get rid of old models, cases that are no longer needed, etc. will give you more space for other equipment, make you time efficient, and allow you to feel stress free when looking for something during those busy days. It will also ensure you have everything needed in your inventory. Tiger Safarov, owner of ZenSupplies writes: "The organization of your dental supplies is the key to being able to utilize the software to its true potential":

3. Help your Hygienists

In most cases, Hygienists are busy bees with hardly ever any downtime. If you are wondering what to do after your dental assistant duties are completed, they greatly appreciate any help you can provide! For example, you can help them by taking x-rays for their patients, help them perio chart patients, keep up on the sterilization, and help clean and flip their rooms for the next patient. These tasks may seem simple or small, but in the grand scheme of things, it helps them out more than you know. So next time you aren’t sure what to do in downtime don’t hesitate to lend a helping hand to your hygienist(s).

4. Help front office

Most dental assistants are cross trained to help up front when needed. This can include anything from scheduling appointments, doing care calls, to checking patients out by taking payments, updating forms, insurance, etc. When there is downtime and you see the reception area flooding with patients, this is a good time to hop in and help keep the flow of the office smooth. Betty Hayden Consulting wrote an entire article on this one topic to really get into all of the details for future dental assistants:

5. Practice new techniques on each other you need to work on

You know what they say, practice makes perfect! This is one of the best ways to continue perfecting your craft as a dental assistant. If the Doctor is out unexpectedly, you can use this time to brush up on skills you are not normally able to do, due to it being busy on the normal day to day. You can grab your other dental assistant friends and practice with each other. Examples of this can be new technology in the office, taking radiographs or intraoral photos, practicing impressions or pouring up models. There are a lot of duties a dental assistant must achieve, and this is a great time to practice some you may need extra help on.

6. Stocking the treatment rooms

Making sure all rooms are properly stocked each week is one of the essential dental assistant duties which will prevent you from having to get up and leave the room during an appointment with a patient. You should always keep a list on you of how much you are stocking and of what in each treatment room. Doing this will help keep your lead assistant organized with dental inventory and know when to place an order. Stocking the treatment rooms regularly and when the Doctor happens to be out of the office, will make the flow of the schedule a lot more efficient for you and your team.

7. Prepare for the following work day

Assuming the Doctors are going to be back by the next working day, you can prepare by setting up rooms with proper instruments and supplies you’ll need for that day's appointments. An easy way to do this is creating a checklist of what should be done before leaving the office at the end of the day. The Dentaltown has a great post to reference if you’re needing ideas on what should be included into this checklist. They provide opening procedures, daily routine, end of the day, week ending, and end of the month checklists for you:

8. Coronal polishing/sealants

Depending on how long the Doctor will be out of the office, this downtime can be another great way to work on expanding your techniques, knowledge, and certifications! If you are already certified in this area, you can help out by taking these patients during the day so they do not have to be rescheduled. It’s quite easy to be certified in this area, all you have to do is research local colleges or dental schools near you that offer this type of training.

9. Social media content

This project is a great way to promote your office in downtime when all other jobs have been completed. Everyone loves Tik Tok, Instagram, Facebook, etc. Using these platforms as a way to show your office and team off is a great way to make patients feel like they can relate to you. This makes it a bit more personal and can set the tone for the type of vibe you want your office to have. Taking photos for birthdays, creating funny videos, coming up with and posting a giveaway, (big or small) can take up quite a bit of time, but also be very rewarding. Especially in this day and age where social media is a huge part of almost everyone's life.

10. Decorating for the seasons

Having an aesthetically pleasing office really does benefit you when patients are coming in. You can decorate the office for the time of year to give it a more ‘homey’ feel. It’s going to make patients feel a lot more comfortable walking into the office rather than if it was plain, bland, and uninviting. This should be the last priority on the list if everything else above is completed. Often times people will make judgement off of what they see as soon as they walk in the door, so if you have a few extra minutes to hang some paintings, add some throw pillows, or seasonal decorations, this will go a long way in making the patients feel like they aren’t at the dentist so much.


Bettyhaydenconsulting blog post for #4-

Dental assistant checklist #7-

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