When did you first decide to go into the dental field?
Actually, around third grade is when I decided. I always knew this is where I wanted to be.
What influenced your decision?
I always enjoyed going to the dentist. Every time I went, the dentist, hygienist or the assistant would walk me through everything and explain it all to me, because I wanted to know.
I did teeter-totter between becoming a dentist, then I went through braces so I wanted to be an orthodontist. I also thought about becoming a hygienist, however I finally made it to the dental field as an assistant.
What was it about the dentist that intrigued you?
I found it all very fascinating. All my experiences growing up went really well, because I’ve never had a cavity and always had good reports.
I loved how my teeth would feel after a cleaning and the dental staff always took good care of me. Nothing ever seemed scary, and it was really interesting to me.
What does a dental assistant do?
After patients check in, I’m usually the first one they see. I bring them back and if they’re a new patient I give them a tour of the office before sitting them in the seat.
Then I go over medical history and try to find out as many details as possible. I am certified in coronal polishing and the application of fluoride, and do some cleanings too. However, the more extensive cleanings is what our hygienist is for.
I also do x-rays, place sealants, and administer nitrous if needed.
Once the doctor comes in I assist him or her, which sometimes can be a little challenging. In a way we have to be mind readers, to anticipate what next steps the dentist wants to do, to be ready for it and to be the most helpful for them.
At the end of the appointment I make sure the child is good to go. I schedule their next appointment to come back and see us, and then I walk them up to the front.
What do you like most about your job?
I love it because there’s so much diversity being an assistant. You get to see and do so much between assisting the dentist or the hygienist, and getting to help with all the different procedures. It’s very exciting to me.
My favorite part is the challenge, because no two children are alike. They are all different, so every day I feel like I learn something new. I love that I get to grow more as a person each day and being able to challenge myself.
How do you deal with children who are anxious or nervous?
I just try to do everything I can to help keep them calm. At the beginning of the appointment I ask if they want me to show them what we’re going to do. If they say “yes”, I try to go over everything. I show them some of our instruments, especially the ones that make the noises, because it’s usually the noises that scare children the most.
Some children, however, don’t want to know what we’re going to do. In that case, then I keep everything hidden and tucked away until it is time to get the work done. I just try to be as quick and efficient as possible, because sometimes they get antsy or tired of lying in the chair.
Tone of voice is another way to keep children calm. We also have TV’s above each chair, so I ask which cartoon channel they like the most, and I turn on cartoons for them. The TV sometimes helps take their minds away from what’s going on with their mouths.
Where did you go to school for dental assisting?
Oklahoma Health Academy here in Tulsa. I loved school, and I graduated at the top of my class.
Why did you choose to work in a pediatric office instead of a general dentist?
I’d much rather deal with kiddo’s. I feel like it’s a more fun environment and it’s exciting to me. The children are just so funny and entertaining. When I leave here I’m just in a great mood and state of mind.
After my first week of working here, I called up my mom and told her I have the best problem: I smiled so much at work today my cheeks are sore! It’s nice to find a job you enjoy, that way when you get up in the morning you’re ready to go to work and not dreading to go in. Having a job you love just makes it so much better.
What tips do you have for parents to keep their children cavity-free?
I’ll give you my spiel: The most important time to brush is at night – preferably brush, floss and, if they’re old enough, use mouthwash with fluoride in it. Make sure you’re using toothpaste with fluoride in it, even for babies. For a baby, only use a smear of toothpaste, because we know they will swallow it, but at that amount, it’s not so much that it’s going to do harm.
After that routine at night, nothing to eat or drink except for water, and then off to bed they go. Then I encourage brushing every morning because nobody likes that morning breath – I’ve been known to call it monkey breath, because it is pretty bad sometimes. So it’s just getting into a good routine and a good habit.
Your legal name is Charlene Leigh. Does anyone ever call you Charlene?
Only when I’m getting in trouble.