Dental tools arranged on a tray

Step-by-Step Guide to Preparing Tray Set-ups

Learn the procedures, steps, risks, and requirements for preparing tray set-ups.

Dental tools arranged on a tray

Dental tray set-ups are a key tool for storage and organization. In dental care, an oral-health professional arranges the necessary equipment on a tray before the patient’s exam. This process can increase the efficiency of the entire practice, as proper tray set-ups save time for the patients and allow dentists to serve the public better.

Dental trays are often made from stainless steel or other easily sterilized materials. They feature raised edges to prevent instruments from slipping or falling. Dental Assistants (DA) organize sterilized instruments by procedure type, allowing other dental professionals to extract the exact tools they need for the procedure at hand. Therefore, DAs need to follow the proper method of dental tray setups.

This article focuses on preparing tray set-ups, one of the most important dental procedures for medical staff.

(See our list of the most common Dental Assisting duties and responsibilities.)

Tray Set-ups Definition

What Does it Mean to Prepare Tray Set-ups?

Dental Assistants prepare trays for each patient’s room. The basic arrangement of dental instruments often includes two dental mirrors, two cotton pliers, a metal or plastic periodontal probe, a suction holder, and a hemostat. Other essential tools include surgical scissors, retractors, and scalpels.

What is the Purpose of Tray Set-ups?

Preparing dental trays is a standard procedure that’s performed for the following reasons:

  1. To ensure smooth and predictable dental processes
  2. To assist dentists and dental hygienists before patient exams
  3. To save time and maximize efficiency for the dental team

How Long Does it Take to Prepare Tray Set-ups?

This procedure usually takes about 5-10 minutes to complete. The Dental Assistant gathers the necessary supplies, ensures they are sterilized, and arranges them on the tray. The DA may also prepare trays for multiple exam rooms.

Who Can Prepare Tray Set-ups?

Dental Assistants will likely be required to prepare tray set-ups for dentists and dental hygienists before each patient’s exam. It may sound like a simple procedure, but this task is essential to the dental office’s examination process and success. In addition, a DA assists the dental team by preparing the exam room.

(Go here to learn how to become a Dental Assistant.)

Training Requirements for Tray Set-ups

The requirements for tray set-ups vary and depend on your location and profession. For instance, Dental Assistants usually need to graduate from an accredited program and pass an exam. However, some may learn through on-the-job training.

Dental Assistant programs typically take about one year or less to complete. They include both clinical and classroom instruction. The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) accredits over 250 Dental Assisting programs in the United States. These programs provide knowledge and practical experience.

Gloved hand holding dental instruments

Tray Set-up Procedure

Like any other skill, tray setups require time and practice to get right. So, the first step is to understand proper set-up procedures.

Tray Set-up Prep

It’s beneficial to have your supplies ready and know your employer’s procedures,  including their sterilization process.

Steps for Prepping Tray Set-ups

Here are the general guidelines you should follow:

  1. Place the instruments on the tray in order of use, starting with the lefthand side and moving to the right.
  2. Group the instruments according to their function.
  3. Arrange the cotton supplies across the top of the tray.
  4. Place scissors, hemostats, and other hinged instruments on the righthand side of the tray for easier access.
  5. Return the instruments to their original positions after you receive them from the operator. This helps to ensure that the equipment can be easily retrieved if the operator needs them again.
  6. Ensure instruments are clean and remove any debris before you put them back on the tray. Use gauze sponges on the tray to quickly remove blood, cement, etc.
  7. Follow proper cleaning and sterilization procedures after the patient’s exam.

Necessary Equipment for Tray Set-ups

Typically, the supplies for tray set-ups include the following items:

  • Dental mirrors
  • Cotton pliers
  • Periodontal probe
  • Hemostat
  • Suction holder
  • Surgical scissors
  • Retractors
  • Scalpels

Potential Risks or Complications of Tray Set-ups

One risk of inadequate tray set-ups is the loss of time. If the correct equipment is not assembled, it will cause delays for the dentist. In addition, dental instruments must be properly sterilized to prevent the spread of germs. For example, viral or bacterial infections could spread if the equipment hasn’t been properly sterilized.

The word tips in wooden letter blocks

Pro Tips for Mastering the Art of Tray Set-ups

Tray set-up tips include memorizing facts about dental instruments, remembering that left is best and learning the proper procedures. Here are more pro tips that could assist you in the future:

  • Know your instruments – As a Dental Assistant, you are responsible for knowing the purpose of each instrument and which ones the dentist will need during a procedure. For instance, some instruments are used to examine the mouth and teeth, while others clean the teeth, remove cavities, place filling materials, and more.
  • Start with the lefthand side – You must prepare the instruments in order of use so that you won’t delay the procedure. A procedure tray is typically arranged from left to right. The DA will use their left hand to transfer instruments to the dental hygienist or dentist.
  • Brush up on instrument numbers – Most manufacturers designate each instrument with a universal part number. Sometimes, the dentist will refer to this number rather than the instrument’s name. Every DA should learn the name and the number of each dental hand instrument.
  • Save the bib for last  After you have prepared a dental tray, place the patient’s bib on top of the instruments. This will help you or the dental hygienist remember to put a fresh bib on each patient.
  • Add floss to your tray If your employer allows you to do so, add floss to the tray. Otherwise, the dental hygienist will later need to change their gloves while retrieving the floss. This might sound like a minor delay, but every little bit counts. Plus, you’ll save the hygienist and the practice a pair of gloves.
  • Check the arrow on instrument packets When you retrieve a packet of instruments for each tray, remember to check the arrow at the top of the packet. Before sterilization, the arrow is pink; after sterilization, the arrow turns brown.
  • Absorb as much information as possible Aside from your required training and observations, watch videos for a visual presentation of how to set up a dental tray. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, either. These things take time and practice to get right.

Why Should Dental Assistants Learn How to Prepare Tray Set-ups?

Proper tray set-ups increase efficiency and reduce the risk of exposure to harmful pathogens. Dental trays must be correctly prepared before each patient exam.

Dental Assistants can significantly increase the efficiency of the dental care team by preparing tray set-ups between patients. This also helps save time so dentists can see more patients daily.

While tray set-ups aren’t always a job requirement, it is a task that Dental Assistants commonly perform. It’s also a valuable skill that could lead to more opportunities. Therefore, it would be advantageous for DAs or aspiring Dental Assistants to pursue training in this area. Once experienced, a DA would likely become more helpful to their employer and earn better career prospects.

Young dental practitioner holding tools

Start Your Career in Dental Assisting

Preparing dental trays is a crucial skill aspiring Dental Assistants should consider learning for their careers. It’s also an essential practice for the productivity of the entire dental team.

If you’re inspired and want to pursue a career in medicine, Unitek College offers various healthcare programs, such as our Dental Assisting program.

Contact us today to learn more about our programs and tuition assistance options. Take the first step toward a rewarding future in healthcare!