3 things that can make a dental assistant cry at work

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Have you ever cried at work?

Dental assistants’ response to this question seems to be: Yes, this happens sometimes.

Niqua A. would go so far as to say there are “buckets of tears” cried in dentistry!

Of course, not all tears are shed in sadness. As Angie P. tell us, “In my dental assisting career, I have cried happy tears, sad tears and mad tears. And of course, I’ve cried when stressed.”

Many dental assistants can recall times they’ve cried chairside with patients, as well as in the break room, their car, or even at home before or after work. Why?

Below are a handful of scenarios when dental assistants felt emotional at the office.

When you’re overwhelmed

Dental assisting is a complex and varied profession. And, there’s a lot to learn — especially for those who are new to the field. We’ve heard from dental assistants who felt emotional about the learning curve they experienced when they started out in the profession or when they joined a new dental practice.

For example, Sara A. recently began her first dental assisting job after graduating from school, and she’s realizing that she still has a lot to learn. An outstanding student who describes herself as usually able to catch on quickly, Sara feels discouraged that her transition into the working world has been less than smooth.

“There’s so much that is new to me,” Sara admits. “Sometimes, I want to go sit in a corner and cry.”

Even for seasoned professionals, it’s not uncommon to feel swamped with all there is to do in the dental office, especially considering that many dental assistants are taking on extra duties during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kristy S. describes feeling stretched so thin over this past year, she was motivated to find a new employer altogether. “Working at my office of 16 years felt way too intense after we came back from our pandemic shutdown,” Kristy shares. “I was way too stressed out, being the only assistant. I felt like I had to make a change — I was ugly-crying too much.”

After starting her new job, Kristy has a brighter outlook. “Now, I look forward to working at another office with four other assistants,” she continues, “so I’ll have extra time between patients.”

Before switching employers, Kristal P. also used to dread the workday. “I would cry in my bed because I didn’t want to go to the office,” she says. “I was close to quitting the field altogether, but I’m glad I didn’t. My new job is much, much better.”

When there’s tension in the office

The dental office is a place where working alongside others — whether dental colleagues or patients — is the norm. Typically, providing patient care through teamwork is an extremely positive experience. However, when working with other people, there can be moments of conflict, which can feel stressful.

The best dental teammates don’t hesitate to pitch in and help one another when things become challenging. But when team dynamics become strained, this certainly can be a reason to cry.

Many agree that drama has no place in the dental office, but we still hear stories about the toll it can take on dental employees.

For example, Carly S. regrets getting sucked into gossiping with her co-workers, which culminated in a heated confrontation with her office manager. “I feel so silly for having said anything at all,” admits Carly. “Now, there’s lingering tension among me, the office manager, and some of my co-workers. I just want to cry all the time. I learned a huge lesson.”

Tensions can also arise with patients, sometimes over innocent misunderstandings. Although dental assistants are quick to address the issue and defuse the situation, the stress of resolving the tension can sometimes bring on the tears.

A dental assistant who would like to remain anonymous recalls a time when a patient arrived late and assumed she was being treated poorly as a result. This patient was upset and even asked for another dental assistant!

This dental assistant says she was surprised by the patient’s response, especially since she had barely noticed the tardiness — and hadn’t even commented on it. She tried calming the patient down and explaining that everything was okay — but it was no use. “The patient was very unhappy with me, so I went to find a co-worker to take over,” the dental assistant says. “And then, I burst into tears. What a horrible way to start my morning!”

When you witness a patient transformation

Although it’s no secret that challenging times sometimes make you want to cry at work, on the flip side, we usually receive an outpouring of stories about all the happy tears in the dental office, too. And that’s reason to smile!

Dental assistants recognize the important role they play in comforting patients during their dental appointments — particularly those who need extensive work and may feel anxious or fearful about this. Staying by their side every step of the way, assistants can help patients reach successful outcomes.

Tammy K. shares an especially uplifting smile-changing story: “After replacing a patient’s 25-year-old anterior crowns and handing her the mirror, tears immediately filled her eyes. She was beyond happy with her new crowns! My doctor and I were crying happy tears with our patient, too. Moments like this one are priceless and make what I do so special to me.”

Rachel S. has had similar career-affirming patient care experiences. “A patient started crying tears of joy after receiving new dentures after being toothless for a while, because he had never felt comfortable going to other dental offices for treatment,” she shares. “Because of our dental team, this patient was able to smile again!”

In fact, this patient was so appreciative of the team’s efforts, he later reached out to their supervisor to extend his gratitude. “The patient praised me personally for my positive attitude toward working with him,” Rachel continues. “It felt amazing to help someone in this way, and to be seen.”

It’s true — it can be emotional for dental assistants to realize the difference they make in patients’ lives. And many assistants say their positive experiences with patients have meant so much to them.

Gabrielle R. can relate. “I love to help patients, especially through their hard and emotional journeys and then seeing them smile at the end of it. Hearing them say, ‘You made this easier for me’ is a truly tear-jerking moment.”

Martina W. also cherishes the countless rewarding memories she’s shared with patients over the past 40 years: “I’ve cried my fair share of tears with them. I’m often told that because I’m so nurturing, compassionate and understanding, I help patients to feel better. I can get choked up just thinking about that.”