As a dental assistant, do you ever feel like people may not understand your job?
It can be easy for non-assistants to assume that dental assisting doesn’t entail much. This assumption can be made of any career, as it’s the mark of a great professional to make doing any job in any field look effortless. Usually, only those who have spent time in the role understand all the work it must take to be successful. But onlookers may think: I could do that! How hard could it be?
We know these assumptions — maybe from your patients, your friends and family, or even your dental team members — can be frustrating. Here, we take a closer look at common dental assisting myths and strive to dispel them by setting the record straight.
1. Myth: Becoming a dental assistant isn’t hard
Fact: It is possible for dental assistants to enter the profession without first attending a formal dental assisting education program. However, those who choose this path embark on the challenging experience of learning the ins and outs of dental assisting on the job. This is often done in a fast-paced environment, and the professional vocabulary is extensive and can sound like a foreign language at times! In this setting, under the oversight of experienced dentists, assistants quickly learn through hands-on chairside training.
Those who pursue a dental assisting certificate or diploma from a formal dental assisting program begin by studying in the classroom. Then, they accumulate experience during clinical courses and dental office externships. These dental assisting programs typically require a year-long commitment from start to finish.
2. Myth: Dental assistants don’t need to know much
Fact: Dental assistants don’t just need to know all about dental instruments and procedures. They also need to know the ins and outs of the office, and understand federal and state laws, standards, and guidelines. This can be challenging, because dental assisting requirements, job titles, and allowable functions vary from state to state.
Additionally, most dental assistants are constantly continuing their education. Dentistry is an ever-changing field, with the regular introduction of new technology, trends, and procedures. Because dental assistants regularly provide patient education, having accurate knowledge of terminology and procedures is a must. That’s one reason why dental assistants who hold certification through the Dental Assisting National Board, Inc. (DANB) must earn continuing education credits each year — to remain on the cutting edge. Through earning and maintaining DANB certification, assistants show employers and patients that they are continuously improving their clinical knowledge.
3. Myth: Dental assisting is an easy job
Fact: Dental assistants say they sometimes hear, “You’re ‘just’ a dental assistant” from patients, friends, and family members. This can be frustrating, because dental assistants know the role requires a specific skill set and knowledge base. Plus, dental assistants perform a variety of tasks and duties. These include:
- Maintaining the dental office schedule
- Setting up dental exam rooms
- Implementing dental infection control protocols
- Seating and interacting with patients
- Educating patients and ensuring they understand and feel comfortable with the procedure
You stay one step ahead of the dentist at all times and keep everything running smoothly throughout the entire day. You’d probably agree that this is no small task list.
4. Myth: Assistants aren’t that important to the team
Fact: We hear from some assistants that they feel underappreciated in the dental office. But the truth is that assistants are just as important as any member of the dental team. In fact, many dentists say they could not do their job without a good dental assistant. Only through working together, and with the assistant’s support, can the dental team be successful. For this reason, each year, the first full week in March is dedicated to appreciating the responsibilities of dental assistants during Dental Assistants Recognition Week.
5. Myth: Dental assisting doesn’t pay well
Fact: There are a variety of factors that may affect an assistant’s pay, such as job location and experience level. Like in all fields, there’s commonly a pay trajectory for dental assistants. Those who are just starting out in the field often earn a base entry-level salary. As they say, you’ve got to start somewhere.
However, dental assistants regularly tell us that as they gain experience, knowledge, and time on the job, there are opportunities to grow their salaries — especially for those who take on additional duties in the dental office and pursue DANB certification.
On average, DANB certificants earn $22.09 per hour — over $2 more per hour than assistants who are not certified, DANB’s Dental Assistants Salary Survey shows. Additionally, DANB Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) certificants frequently reported asking for and receiving raises. In fact, 61% of DANB certificants surveyed said they have received a raise in their current position.