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Satisfaction of Making a Difference/Having an Impact Dental Assisting in China

Author: Claudia Pohl, CDA, RDA, FADAA, BVEd./Tuesday, December 2, 2014/Categories: 24/7 Articles

40 years ago, when I started in this profession and joined the ADAA as a student member, I never would have imagined that through my professional networking I would be afforded an opportunity like this.

Lois Bell and I had the privilege and pleasure of traveling to China in May as guests of Linda Cai, the Guangdong Dental Society and Zhejiang Dental Society, presenting lecture and hands-on classes in two different cities. It was an intense, busy trip that included some time to enjoy the culture and people in each city, and we experienced the very best of Chinese hospitality.


We flew to Shanghai, where we were greeted by Linda (our hostess) and then flew on to Guangzhou (about 900 mi south). Guangzhou is the capital and largest city in the Guangdong Province, located on the Pearl River on the southern border of China – 80 miles north of Hong Kong. Despite our midnight arrival, Dr. Zhu (a local dentist) picked us up at the airport and we then drove another hour to Guangzhou, where we settled into our hotel.

The next morning, we visited the Guangdong Provincial Dental Hospital, which is run by Dr. Ou Yao (Dr. Ou is also serving a second year as President of the Guangdong Dental Society, which is similar to our dental organizations here in the U.S). We met with the leaders of the hospital dental assisting staff, discussing common practices and getting to know each other. They then took us on a tour of the facility, which included a Scaling Clinic, Implant Department, Period Department and a Preventive station for oral hygiene instructions.

Following the tour, we joined them all for a wonderful meal in a nearby restaurant, where we quickly put our chopstick skills to the test! Thankfully we are both quick studies in the art of eating Chinese-style, though it did provide a few humorous moments.

The afternoon included tours of local dental offices. We first stopped at a large clinic, and then visited a smaller office, which is owned in part by one of the leaders in the Guangdong Dental Society – Dr. Shi, followed by a visit to another large clinic.

The next day was the class for which we had prepared. We arrived to see over 90 dental assistants ready for us! In addition, there were about 8 area dentists in attendance, most of whom are leaders in the Guangdong Dental Society. The morning began with the host, Dr. Ou giving his opening remarks and then we gave an introductory speech. Lois then presented a lecture on Dental Assisting in the US followed by a lecture on Infection Control by me. We were a bit unsure about lecturing with a translator, but quickly settled in. There was much discussion and many questions from the dental assistants as we shared information with each other – we learning about dentistry in China and they learning about dentistry in the U.S.

One of the questions from the participants was if there was availability of an international membership in the ADAA. I was so excited that these dental assistants wanted not only to hear our presentations and share knowledge, but also wanted to be a part of the ADAA! In fact, some of the dental assisting leads from the Hospital not only expressed interest in forming a society in Guangzhou, but they have begun organizing themselves and discussing developing an education center for dental assistant.

What we weren’t expecting was the response at the end of the lectures. The participants flooded the stage, wanting pictures with us – including the doctors in attendance. They expressed their gratitude for our presence and willingness to share information. They quickly recognized areas of weakness in their practice and showed an openness to change. Amazing.

Lunch was served Chinese-style in a beautiful banquet room with the Guangdong Dental Society Leadership. We toasted to the potential for new relationships and enjoyed some wonderful food together before being whisked off to change into our scrubs and prepare for the hands-on clinic in the afternoon.

The hands-on clinic was held at the Guangdong Dental Hospital where we demonstrated four-handed dentistry and auxiliary utilization. Each student then had a brief opportunity to sit chairside with us and practice instrument transfer.

That evening was the party (patterned after the ADAA’s President’s Party) for all the course participants. This was their first taste of having something specifically designed for dental assistants and everyone thoroughly enjoyed it. Following dinner, there were door prizes, awards to local assistants, a Chinese reading, champagne toast (with the requisite cork popping) – and a tearful goodbye.


After traveling north about 800 mi, we settled into Hangzhou, which is the capital and largest city in the Zhejiang Province. We spent a day visiting West Lake, the Leifeng Pagoda and enjoyed a tea sampling.

Class was held the next day and there were again about 90 assistants and 8 dentists in attendance. Our time together was very interactive with lots of questions and discussion, facilitated by Linda. Following lunch, we were shuttled via vans to a local dental office. There Lois and I demonstrated four-handed dentistry during a composite restoration. This, too, provided lots of opportunity for questions and discussion as we discovered different approaches to the procedure.

The party that evening was attended by 80 of the participants and again included door prizes, awards and a champagne toast. Additionally, the staff of Dr. Wang prepared an interpretive dance set to a Chinese ballad, which was beautiful.


Despite the fact that we do not share the same physical characteristics and couldn’t communicate much without a translator, we are really no different – and we share a love of dentistry! We met some amazing women who have interesting stories about their journey in dentistry. They were warm, welcoming, appreciative.

Considering the history and age of China as opposed to the U.S., I was surprised by some of the current practices. It is still possible to become a dentist via on-the-job training. There are no hygienists as we know them. The assistants are dental nurses – many of them having gone through three years of nursing school instead of high school. They are then recruited into dental assisting, but there is very little dental assisting education. They do not understand or implement the concept of four-handed dentistry nor do they utilize their assistant fully. Additionally – and perhaps more importantly – understanding of foundational concepts of infection control appears to be greatly lacking. I have a new appreciation for regulations in the US!

Visionaries in China

This trip was many years in the making and was driven by the vision of Linda Cai. Lu (Linda) Cai grew up in China, but has lived in Northern California for the past 20 years. She has practiced as a dental assistant and a lab tech here in the states. Seeing the gap in dental care between China and the U.S., she has long desired to improve the quality of dental care provided to patients in China as well as ‘advance and enhance the profession of dental assisting’ there. She has been providing education in a variety of locations throughout China, but has been looking for support from U.S. dental assistants – and has come to the ADAA as the educational arm of dental assisting in the U.S. She has built many relationships within the dental community in China and expressed gratitude for the support provided for this trip to Drs. Ou and Zhu from the Guangdong Private Dental Society and Dr. Wang and her assistant from the Zhejiang Private Dental Society.


Following the trip, Linda received multiple communications sharing stories about the assistants’ desire to implement what they learned, appreciation for what they experienced and requests for future classes (from both assistants and doctors). The Guangdong Dental Society has extended an invitation to return next year during their annual meeting, including an invitation to an ADAA representative with the potential of having a booth provided on the convention floor. It’s an exciting time as we develop new relationships and have the opportunity to share our knowledge – because knowledge provides the opportunity to effect change – and in this case it has the potential to advance and enhance dental assisting in another country.


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