4 things all new dental assistants experience

woman covering mouth

If you’ve ever started a new dental assistant job, you likely remember the feeling that comes with reporting for work on that very first day. Excitement! Anticipation! Motivation! And … well, nervousness. You were probably nervous, too.

Here’s what some assistants have said about being either new to the profession or to a different role in the dental office:

“It’s so discouraging being new!” — Chelsea B.

“I’m brand new also! I have that same feeling. It’s nice to know I’m not alone.” — Kayla G.

Truth be told, we’ve heard just as many nerve-wracking stories as fond memories from those first days on the job. But those whose early experiences are now behind them tend to agree that, despite some initial cringeworthy moments, assisting eventually got easier. If you’re just starting out in the field, that’s probably encouraging to hear!

In this post, we’ve compiled the top four things that all new dental assistants tend to experience.

1. Feeling overwhelmed by all there is to know

For many, the first few days or even months in a new role can come with the ultimate learning curve. While this time is often a great opportunity to learn and grow, it can also be stressful. You may feel as if there are still some things you don’t yet know about. You might wonder: Will I ever catch up?

Looking back, Rachel M. recalls feeling intimidated and overwhelmed at first. It didn’t help that the dentist called attention to what she didn’t seem to know — and not just in front of her, but also in front of everyone else on the team. “I sat in my car and bawled my eyes out during my lunch break,” she shares. Luckily, Rachel decided to stick it out, knowing that gaining experience can lead to increased confidence. “I worked there for almost three years,” Rachel is happy to report.

2. Saying the wrong thing

Part of being a dental assistant involves talking with patients — a lot. But those who are new to the profession may find it takes practice to be able to skillfully have these conversations. At first, novice assistants may find themselves wanting to take back their words or reactions and try again.

Jenni Q. recalls misunderstanding a patient on her first day. “I remember reviewing a patient’s medical history,” she shares. “He mentioned he had cataract surgery. I was thinking he meant Lasik surgery. I said, ‘Oh wow, I’ve always wanted to have that done!’ He said, ‘Maybe one day you will!’”

Patricia S. once had a reaction during a procedure that shocked her patient, to her employer’s surprise. This proved to be a valuable learning experience. “It was the first time I was assisting the doctor, and the tip of the air-water syringe wasn’t completely pushed in,” Patricia explains. “When I went to use the syringe, the tip went into the patient’s mouth. I gasped loudly and said, ‘Oh no!’ I got in so much trouble for gasping.”

3. Not getting it right on the first try

At first, new dental assistants might not do minor things just right the first time — sometimes much to their teammates’ surprise or even amusement!

Jessica R. told us that as an intern, she took a full set of dental radiographs on a patient who had dentures. “My boss hung those x-rays up in the break room for a long time,” she recalls. Similarly, Janis G. once took dental radiographs on a patient who was still wearing glasses. “I was so horrified,” she says. “It was a total rookie mistake. I still cringe when I think about it.”

4. Falling or fumbling in front of the patient

We’ve also heard about some pretty embarrassing moments that occurred on those very first days. For instance, Ashley S. once tripped over the HVE vacuum hose. “I fell on to the patient, who stopped my fall,” she remembers. “We laughed. I was mortified, but it couldn’t have happened to an easier-going patient. Thank goodness!”

And Monica S. dropped a full impression tray on her first day of her externship — oops! While this was a learning experience, it also provided some perspective.

“There have been many other moments like this one, but as you go on, you learn to handle mistakes better and not stress about it so much,” Monica explains. “The first days are always rough.”