3 reasons recognizing dental assistants is more important than ever

a sign reading "you are valuable"

Dental Assistants Recognition Week (DARW) is March 5-11, 2023, as designated by the American Dental Assistants Association. DANB and the DALE Foundation are proud to be celebrating again this year.

We believe that DARW is as essential as dental assistants are to their dental team and patients — and that dental assistants deserve to be recognized this week, this month, and all year long, for all their critical contributions.

Acknowledgment of dental assistants should be an everyday occurrence, agrees Carol, CDA. “The assistant is very much a vital part of the dental team,” she says.

DARW brings much-needed attention to the importance of dental assistant recognition. Here are 3 reasons why DARW is essential, perhaps this year more than ever before.

1. DARW builds assistant appreciation in the dental office.

By and large, we hear that the majority of dental assistants are passionate about their careers. Many earn certification, attend dental assisting school, and complete continuing dental education. Most find dental assisting to be an extremely rewarding profession, but assistants also express they feel underappreciated at times.

“Dental assisting is a strong career, and I feel strongly about what I do,” shares Melissa, CDA. “Dental assistants care for our patients — we educate them, comfort them, and communicate with them — and we are one another’s strength.”

On the flip side, Melissa adds, “I feel a lot of times, we are overlooked.”

Melissa is not alone in feeling this way. DARW 2023 comes on the heels of DANB’s latest Dental Assistants Salary and Satisfaction Survey, published in 2022. The survey results show that although about two-thirds of dental assistants reported being satisfied with their job, satisfaction levels have declined in recent years. The survey also suggests there is room for improvement in workplace recognition and appreciation, as just over half of dental assistants said they felt valued by their employer.

Now is the time for dental teams to demonstrate their appreciation for dedicated dental assistants. DARW is the perfect opportunity to do just that. As Melissa says, “This is our week to shine!”

2. DARW illuminates all that dental assistants do as part of the profession.

Every year, DARW puts the focus on everything that dental assistants do in the dental office — and it’s a lot!

The typical day of a dental assistant often involves a variety of activities, such as greeting and seating patients, preparing and sterilizing the room and instruments for treatment, taking dental radiographs, assisting the dentist with procedures, and giving patients post-treatment care instructions. Depending on where a dental assistant works, they may also perform expanded functions, as allowed by their state.

Plus, in recent years, more and more dental assistants have taken on important roles in infection prevention and control.

We also consistently hear that dental assistants play an important role in patient retention. Dental assistants always go the extra mile to provide excellent patient care and education, and this rarely goes unnoticed by patients who appreciate assistants’ compassion, skills, and knowledge.

DARW is a chance for dental assistants’ colleagues and patients to truly observe and acknowledge just how much a dental assistant contributes to keeping them safe, and to ensuring the entire office is running seamlessly.

“We are able to multitask,” adds Andrea, CDA, of a dental assistant’s work. “We wear so many different hats in the office, which makes us a huge asset to a business. Without dental assistants, I truly believe an office would not run as smoothly.”

This year, DARW comes at a time when there is a critical dental workforce shortage. Debra, CDA, acknowledges the shortage and shares that she hopes more people join the dental assisting profession, because it has so much to offer: “Having great team members, and hearing a patient say their experience was so much better than they expected it to be, creates a wonderful place to come to every day.”

3. DARW highlights dental assistants’ important role in infection control.

Every dental practice needs impeccable infection control protocols to protect both patients and staff. And many dental assistants demonstrate their expertise in this crucial area.

It’s true: Dental assistants have a vital role in infection control. DANB’s most recent salary and satisfaction survey shows over 85% of dental assistants are responsible for infection control duties. Such tasks can include instrument processing and sterilization. Some dental assistants serve as the dental office’s infection control coordinator.

Many dental assistants have even elevated their infection control expertise, taking steps to complete continuing education and become certified in this critical area.

“We are the backbone of the dental office,” says Sandra, CDA, CDIPC. “We are generally the ones responsible for infection control and all that goes along with it. We make sure the patient is comfortable with all procedures, and those patients look to us for reassurance.”

Sandra concludes: “As dental assistants, we always strive to increase our knowledge, and we encourage our colleagues to continue learning, about all aspects of procedures, products, and infection control.”

Read more: Why the whole dental team should appreciate dental assistants