4 signs dental assistants have found the right workplace

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For dental assistants, feeling satisfied with their workplace environment, whether a dental office, hospital clinic setting, or elsewhere, is important.

Dental assistants can work in a variety of settings, with a wide range of practice sizes and types to choose from. This is just one of the reasons dental assisting attracts those who like variety in their careers.

With so many options, how can a dental assistant know they’ve found the right office? Here are some telltale signs.

1. The size of the practice feels right.

Dental offices can vary in size, and dental assistant preferences about workplace vary as well.

If you’re weighing your options, you may want to consider whether you’re interested in working and learning alongside just one dentist or two dentists in a small setting, or with multiple dentists in a large practice.

You also might consider that with a larger office comes working as part of a larger team, and that the opposite is likely true with a smaller office. Some dental assistants prefer working with fewer colleagues because they feel they’re able to build close bonds with them and with their patients. On the flip side, working in a larger practice can offer benefits such as more dental teammates to share in the workload, as well as the variety of duties and patients you might be introduced to there.

Laura, CDA, CPFDA, CRFDA, has worked in both settings. “I love and have worked well in both. There are always pros and cons to each. Some people thrive in a huge setting, and some people don’t.

“What I loved the most about being in a large practice is we had a wonderful team,” continues Laura. “We all worked together really well, and it was nice to have all that extra support. In a smaller office where I’m the only assistant, I spend more time with our patients, plus have much more control over the organization and management of my environment.”

2. The type of practice feels fulfilling.

Beyond practice size, type can be a factor when it comes to job satisfaction — for example, in a general or specialty setting. Through work in specialty practices such as orthodontics, pediatrics, or endodontics, some assistants feel they have an opportunity to make a difference among a specific group of patients.

Nancy, COA, works in a practice treating orthodontic patients. She believes this experience has been very rewarding because she helps to transform smiles and self-esteem. “I feel like I am helping children grow into more confident adults, and adult patients become more confident with their smiles,” Nancy says.

Christina also has had an extremely positive experience working with pediatric patients. “Nothing compares to the trust these patients put in you, and to seeing their reaction after the procedures are finished,” Christina says. “Some of the biggest smiles and thank-yous come from the youngest patients. I see it every day.”

By helping young patients, Christina and assistants like her are helping to build their familiarity with the dental office, plus foster a positive oral healthcare journey for them in the long term — priceless!

And while assisting in the endodontics specialty, Laura, CDA, CPFDA, CRFDA, says she “absolutely” saw an enhanced level of patient gratitude. “When people come into an endodontic practice, they’re scared, and they’re in pain. Most of them are just so grateful that you were able to help them reduce their pain,” she recalls.

Such a patient outcome can be significant for all involved, and extremely meaningful for the dental team.

3. Your colleagues are supportive.

Dental assistants say feeling supported and recognized by their employer also goes a long way toward boosting their overall job satisfaction. Those who feel most valued in their workplace often say their employer recognizes their contributions with a good salary, plus benefits such as health insurance and a retirement plan. Work/life balance also is important to assistants.

Additionally, we’ve heard that an especially supportive employer encourages staff members to seek out professional development opportunities, such as earning and maintaining DANB certification and completing continuing education opportunities like those offered by the DALE Foundation, DANB’s official affiliate. Fostering team members’ education can help retain them and benefit the practice in the long term.

Feeling like part of a team is another key factor in dental assistant job satisfaction, the results of  DANB’s Dental Assistants Salary and Satisfaction Survey also show. Thus, the dental assistant’s rapport with the dentist and their dental teammates can make or break their working experience. It can be both reassuring and inspiring for dental assistants to work alongside like-minded professionals who share and support their passion for the profession, for patient care and for professional development. When this is the case, dental assistants often feel like they’re “home” at the dental office.

“There’s a dental TEAM approach to patient care that’s so important,” says Joyce, CDA. “Plus, good pay, opportunities for expanded duties where allowed, feeling valued, and having a pathway for career growth all are important for professional satisfaction and overall retention.”

Patricia, CDA, agrees that having great rapport with her team makes all the difference when it comes to exhibiting stellar job performance and achieving positive patient outcomes together. “Feeling like part of the team allows us to change smiles through gaining patient trust and confidence. Working hard together ensures everyone, staff and patients alike, feels at home in the dental office.”

4. You’re making a meaningful difference.

Many dental assistants say their career is personally fulfilling and that helping patients is the main reason why. According to the results of DANB’s 2020-2021 Dental Assistants Salary and Satisfaction Survey, the most rewarding aspects of a dental assistant role include making a difference in patients’ lives, helping patients improve their oral health, forming relationships with patients, and receiving gratitude from patients. This is especially true when it comes to patients who have been visiting the office for years. When a dental assistant feels like they’ve formed bonds with patients, they’re likely in the right workplace.

“I think recognition is important in all aspects of life — but recognition from my colleagues and my patients helps me feel appreciated and heard and makes me work even harder knowing I’m making a difference,” says Monica, CDA.