Inside Dental Assisting
July/Aug 2013
Volume 9, Issue 4

Endodontics Group Offers Suggestions for Dental Assistants

As it celebrates its roots, the group looks forward to the future

The American Association of Endodontists (AAE) recently celebrated the 70th anniversary of its founding and the 50th anniversary of its recognition as a specialty by the American Dental Association during its 2013 annual session.

The largest endodontic association in the world, the group is eager to share its message that endodontists are here to relieve pain, not to cause it. Because endodontists are often parodied on television and in movies, a few years ago AAE developed a public awareness campaign known now as “Root Canal Awareness Week,” which promotes the positive and painless message of endodontic treatment. In addition, AAE has developed practice tool kits and patient education materials to help in educating and building partnerships with general dentists and their staff.

“When to refer and how to effectively accomplish it are common questions asked,” says AAE President Gary R. Hartwell, DDS, MS, Richmond, VA. “We encourage our members to attempt to schedule ‘lunch and learn’ types of sessions with their potential referral sources, because you can always accomplish more when the dentist and the staff are working well together and are on the same page.”

The AAE promotes the same philosophy within its own ranks, by offering professional staff of AAE members their own membership category, as well. Hartwell states: “We have a live learning center and professional staff forum available online. Our annual session has a track developed specifically for endodontic staff, which includes clinical, administrative and personal wellness education opportunities. We look at our professional staff as members of our team who enhance patient communications and services. Often patients will share information or a concern with a dental assistant that they otherwise may not with the dentist. This information may be critical to the outcome of their care.”

A Dental Assisting Career in Endodontics

For a dental assistant considering a career or move to endodontics, Hartwell suggests shadowing and observing with an endodontist as part of the decision-making process. He says, “A colleague of mine, Dr. Terryl Propper, of Nashville, Tennessee, has been in practice for 25 years. Her advice for hiring an assistant reflects the responsibilities of each party: 1) Be honest about whether the culture or environment of the practice determined by the doctor is a good fit; 2) be honest about the level of commitment that is expected for emergency patients or changes in the schedule; 3) introduce the assistant being interviewed to every person in the practice, and 4) allow the interview to include time in sterilization and the operatory as an observer, to get some idea of their attention to detail in sterilization and dexterity with the instruments as well as communication with other assistants. Endodontics is not for every dental assistant, but when an assistant has a passion for nurturing a patient with fear or accommodating a patient in pain, it promotes the highest level of patient care, supporting endodontists’ additional clinical training (two years beyond general dentistry).”

Beyond general dental assisting education and training, Hartwell suggests that good manual dexterity would be helpful when working with small and very fine endondontic instruments; also people skills and the ability to positively manage patients in stressful situations would provide a winning combination for an endodontic career.


Dental assistants have many opportunities to expand their career options and venture into endodontics.

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