Changes dental assistants wish to see in the profession

wish list written on a piece of paper

Most dental assistants can point to the positives surrounding their career paths. Many are grateful to have joined the profession and, through this journey, have met many like-minded colleagues and appreciative patients.

However, on the flip side, dental assistants also can agree on some changes they’d like to see in the profession. If these changes were to be implemented, they believe, this could take their career satisfaction to new heights, plus improve overall retention in the field.

Increased salaries and benefits

Many dental assistants say they work for an employer who strives to provide a good salary and benefits, such as paid vacation time and holidays, a retirement plan, health insurance, and paid sick leave. Those employers may also provide access to and support for continuing education (whether by allocating time, financial assistance, or both), so dental assistants can grow their education, career, and salary.

But while some dental assistants are satisfied with their salary and benefits, others believe there is room for improvement — especially in light of high inflation in recent years. Additionally, just over half of dental assistants receive health insurance from their employers, according to a survey by the American Dental Association Health Policy Institute

“I’d like to see higher pay for dental assistants because it’s a demanding job if you are good at it,” says Holly.

Trisha agrees, especially since she — like many dental assistants — is responsible for so many duties in the office: “We should receive higher pay to compensate for all the different things that we as assistants do in an office.”

More respect and acknowledgment

Dental assistants are extremely valuable dental team members who make many contributions to the dental office. And yet, we consistently hear dental assistants say they don’t always feel seen and recognized by employers, co-workers, and patients. This may be because not everyone fully understands all that dental assistants do to support everyone at work.

“My hope is that dental assistants will be treated as equal dental team members,” says Cheryl. “Each member of the dental team may have a different title and role, but we are all oral healthcare providers. And dental assistants are an intricate part of the dental team. Let’s hope this will become the thinking in the future.”

Linda agrees: “I’d like to see more appreciation of how important we are to the office.”

Carolyn echoes: “We should be recognized more for all the hard work we do. There are many roles we play as an assistant that people never realize.”

Support for continuing education

Beyond the many tasks dental assistants complete day-to-day in the dental office — often including chairside and at the front desk, as well as behind the scenes with infection control duties — many also go above and beyond to pursue continuing education. For dental assistants, staying knowledgeable about new information, procedures, and technology in dentistry is a must since the profession is ever-evolving.

Many dental assistants have seen technological advancements over the course of their careers, and they say learning all about new equipment and keeping up with the latest trends is exciting. “I love getting up to speed on the advanced technology,” says Pam. “Anything we can use to improve patient care is great!”

Completing continuing education is a time commitment, which warrants recognition and support. But although CE benefits the dental practice, less than 30% of employers reimburse dental assistants for it, according to DANB’s latest Dental Assistants Salary and Satisfaction Survey.

Judy believes wholeheartedly in the power of education. “Through exploring new skill sets, a dental assistant can offer more to the practice and the patients and can achieve professional advancement — and many seek continuing education knowing this. Unfortunately, dental assistant salaries and support for CE are still unbelievably and unacceptably low, in my opinion.”

Additional opportunities to grow

Many dental assistants are grateful for their employer’s encouragement to continue evolving professionally and performing the duties their states allow. But others wish they had more opportunities for accruing knowledge and climbing the career ladder.

“I’d like to be allowed to learn more and do more to benefit my patients,” shares Colleen.

“I’d like to be able to perform more expanded functions in the future,” agrees Jessica.

With more opportunities for advancement, plus more recognition and rewards, dental assistants believe the profession could be even better for those who call it their career. Plus, when dental assisting is widely viewed as a satisfying, forward-moving career, more people may be motivated to enter and stay in the profession.

“Many young people move on from our profession because of factors that include low pay, limited duties, not feeling valued, and no pathway for growth,” observes Joyce. “Perhaps more focus on these important areas would assist with the shortage of dental assistants in the country.”

Read more: How dental assisting can springboard your career