5 things that can scare even the toughest dental assistants

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The dental office can be a scary place for some dental patients, we’ve heard, but what about for dental assistants?

Dental assistants tell us about the stress they sometimes face at work, especially lately — since workloads have seemed to ramp up as a result of hiring shortages in the profession. In addition to having more duties added to their plates, dental assistants already expertly navigate a variety of procedures and patients, as well as the challenges that can pop up during the workday. Fast-paced schedules in the dental office can bring forth all types of feelings: pride, confidence, frustration, even fear.

Although dental assistants are typically resilient and able to roll with the unexpected, there are some things that can rattle even the strongest and most experienced dental assistants. Here are some dental assistant “fears” we’ve heard from you.

Starting a new dental assisting role

While many experienced dental assistants — and especially DANB certificants — say they feel confident in their knowledge, skills and abilities, those who are new to the profession, or new to an office, might still be learning the ins and outs of a day on the job. For entry-level dental assistants especially, those first few days or months might feel intimidating, or even a little bit scary.

Sarah, CDA, shares this story from her early days as a dental assistant: “I was on my externship for school and had just finished my tour of the office. The doctor said, ‘Get your lab jacket on and get in there!’ I responded, ‘I’ve never worked on a real person before!’ and he said, ‘Well, now you will!’” Sarah adds that while she was scared at first, learning on the job proved to be an incredibly valuable experience, which eased any fears she had going into her career.

Parting ways with patients

Dental assistants have told us that they enjoy cultivating friendships with patients in the dental office, whether it be a new patient or one who has been coming to the office for years. The flip side of this is that some dental assistants feel sad at the thought of not seeing those patients anymore. There are many reasons this could happen — the dental assistant may be moving on to a new dental office, or the patient moves out of town, for example. Whatever the reason, parting ways with cherished patients can be one of the most difficult aspects of working in the dental office.

“It saddens me that I just lost a patient who was 98 years old. She came in for an appointment just hours before she passed,” says Sue. “She was a dear, sweet lady who was like a grandmother to me.”

A change in practice ownership

Many dental assistants say they love working with their dentist. Great dentists recognize assistants’ valuable contributions, offer good salary and benefits, and connect assistants with opportunities to learn and advance professionally. What’s more, many dental assistants say their favorite part of the job is the established routine and rapport with the dentist — they say they can effortlessly anticipate the dentist’s needs.

So it’s not surprising that dental assistants with a satisfying workplace might dread the day when the dentist retires or sells the practice.

Consider that Mona experienced feelings of frustration when this happened at her office. “I worked for a dentist for 16 years, and I always felt we had an incredible working relationship,” she shares. “Under the new owner, it’s been a tough adjustment to a different work style.”

A day without the dental team

Lately, there seems to be a shortage of dental assistants, hygienists and other dental team members in locations nationwide. We’ve heard that turnover is up, with some dentists struggling to fill open roles with qualified, educated professionals. While dental assistants can be relied on to step up and take on extra duties in the dental office, those with reduced-sized dental teams are leery of this situation continuing as the norm: Too much to do, too many patients to see, and not enough staff members to manage the workload can wear on the dental team over time.

In fact, when dental assistants try to imagine a persistently understaffed team — or even an office without a dental team altogether — they can’t fathom it.

Says Marcia: “A day without a dental assistant, in particular, would be like a horror movie for the dentist.”

Adds Marisa: “I can’t even imagine a dental office with no front desk or hygienists, either.”

Still searching for a dental home

Many dental assistants say that they love their careers, their teams and patients feel like family, and their workplace even feels like a second home to them. Dental assisting can be an incredibly satisfying career path for those who feel their contributions are valued by everyone they work with and help care for.

But other dental assistants say they haven’t quite found right dental assistant role, office or team — and they worry about when they will find the right fit. Some downright dread not being able to fully realize their full professional potential (and in some cases, earning potential).

Leslie offers some advice for those assistants who might feel this way: “I’ve been a registered dental assistant for almost 11 years. If you want a good role and good pay, you must advocate for yourself. I will say, there seems to be a shortage of talent, big time, so remember your value! Just do your best and keep looking for the right office. Most doctors know our worth, but a lot of us need to remember our own worth, too.”