What I wish I knew before becoming a dental assistant

becoming a dental assistant

Most dental assistants are happy with their careers. Dental assisting has proven to be the ideal profession for their unique blend of interpersonal, administrative and clinical skills. But there are some aspects of the profession that assistants didn’t anticipate before embarking upon their careers.

How much I would love helping patients

Many dental assistants didn’t realize just how fulfilling patient care would be. With their compassionate nature and dental know-how, many dental assistants say working with patients is the best part of their jobs. They enjoy easing patients’ dental fears, educating them about oral healthcare and assisting the dentist with treatments.

“We are not ‘just’ dental assistants. We are hardworking, intelligent healthcare professionals who care about our patients. And we want to give the patient the best dental care possible!" — Ala M., CDA, COA

How fascinating it would be

Most dental assistants find dentistry more interesting than they anticipated. From root canals to extractions to fillings, dental assistants are fascinated by the procedures they assist their dentists with. They want to learn as much as they can about those procedures as well as new techniques and technologies that will boost their clinical skills — for themselves and the patients.

“After 35 years as a dental assistant, I still see things that amaze me. No two people are the same. Therefore, no two teeth can be the same.” — Debbie P.

How there can be drama

Even the dental office is not immune to workplace politics. Dental assistants and the rest of the dental team may have to deal with difficult co-workers or gossip in the office. Some choose to stay positive and ignore the drama. Others are comfortable tactfully confronting difficult situations and resolving them before they fester. Navigating drama in the office is one aspect of the job that some dental assistants didn’t expect.

“I love what I do, but I can’t stand it when you dedicate your time and put in endless hard work just to deal with politics in the dental office. Why can’t you just come to work and give quality treatment?” — Mickey G.

How it can take a toll

Dental assisting can take its toll on the body. Assistants engage in repetitive tasks and are on their feet most of the day. They risk developing injuries to their hands, neck, back, hips, legs and feet. Maintaining good posture, stretching regularly and exercising can help reduce the risks of these types of injuries.

“I love dental assisting, but after working 10 years, my neck is shot and my multiple sclerosis is progressing. When my dentist leaves the practice in two years, I can’t wait to try something more low key and less stress, even if it’s less money.” — Amanda M.

How much I would earn

Dental assisting is one of the fastest-growing professions in the United States. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), dental assisting will grow 11 percent by 2030. But many dental assistants say the salary isn’t keeping up with demand. The median annual salary is $38,660, according to the BLS.

“As hard as we work and as much responsibility as we have, we should be compensated better! This is not just a job, this is a career! It is a great career, but the pay needs to keep up with the cost of living.” — Lisa H., COA

How rewarding it can be

Most dental assistants entered the profession because they knew they wanted to help people. But many were unprepared for the emotional reward they would experience when seeing a patient smile for the first time in years.

“I am proud to make a difference in people’s lives. I love to help somebody who never smiles due to the appearance of their teeth to go from never smiling to smiling all the time!” — Natalie J., CDA

What have you learned about dental assisting as you’ve progressed in your career?