4 tips for new dental assistants entering the workforce

woman wearing a graduation cap

Summer is here, and that means many dental assisting students are graduating and joining the workforce. Like any major life change, starting your career can bring challenges — and, let’s face it, it can be a bit scary!

Even if you graduated from an excellent dental assisting program and have valuable experience from an internship, externship, or volunteer work, there’s always a learning curve when starting any new job — especially at the beginning of your career. You have to figure out how the practice operates, get to know new colleagues and how to work with them, and potentially adjust to a new schedule. If you’re being trained on the job, there’s even more to learn.

But with a few tips, you can make a smooth transition and get comfortable with your new dental assisting job, colleagues, and responsibilities sooner rather than later.

Focus on your strengths

When starting your career, it’s natural for uncertainty to creep into your mind. You may wonder if you’re really qualified for the position or compare yourself to other dental assistants with more experience. In these moments, it’s helpful to remember that all dental assistants were in your shoes at one point and that you already bring many strengths to the table.

You might remind yourself that you graduated from your dental assisting program and have the baseline knowledge to perform the job. Think back to some positive feedback you received from teachers or mentors, whether it’s about your ability to communicate with patients or your strong attention to detail. If you’re being trained on the job and don’t yet have a lot of clinical knowledge, think about the skills you already have that will prepare you for the job — such as empathy, willingness to learn, strong organization, or good listening.

Be patient; nobody masters a job on the first day. But these reminders can give you confidence when starting your career.

Ask questions

Early in your career, it may feel intimidating to ask your dentist or fellow dental assistant a question because you don’t want to be seen as unprepared. But remember your teammates have been in your shoes before and understand that you won’t know everything right off the bat. A good manager or co-worker should welcome any questions you have because asking questions shows that you want to grow.

If you’re not sure how to approach a situation with a patient or you need clarification on infection control policies or using a certain piece of equipment, just ask! It can help prevent mistakes, and it builds trust with your new team.

Embrace your mistakes

Even if you’re a quick learner who’s proactive about asking questions, you’ll probably make some mistakes early in your career. That’s OK! Be kind to yourself. Every new dental assistant needs time to get acclimated to their daily responsibilities, learn the ins and outs of the practice, and build relationships with teammates.

Experience is often the best teacher. When you make a mistake, use the moment as a learning opportunity. Ask your boss, colleague, or mentor what you can improve on or how they would approach the situation at hand. Learning to ask for and receive feedback will benefit you throughout your career. Not only will it improve your skills, but it will also show your employer that you’re determined to become the best dental assistant you can be.

Seek out professional development and growth opportunities

Even if you feel well prepared as a recent graduate and dental assisting comes naturally to you, there’s always more to learn. Dental assistants should strive to continuously build their knowledge and stay up to date on new technology, infection control protocols, patient-care practices, and more. Earning credentials — such as National Entry Level Dental Assistant (NELDA) certification — is one way dental assistants can expand their knowledge and grow in their careers. And whether you’re preparing for DANB exams or seeking continuing education on critical topics, the DALE Foundation offers review courses and practice tests to build your knowledge base and enhance your career.

Being a lifelong learner will help you become a better dental assistant in the short term and open up new career opportunities down the road.

Read more: 8 things to expect at your new dental assisting job