Is being a temp dental assistant right for you?

a calendar with a post-it note that says "flexible schedule"

As the dental assisting profession continues to experience a shortage, new opportunities are opening up to help address staffing needs. For instance, more practices are turning to temporary dental assistants. In DANB’s 2020 Dental Assistants Salary and Satisfaction Survey, just 1% of respondents reported that they worked as a temp dental assistant. In the latest survey from 2022, the number increased to 2%. While that’s still a relatively small number, temporary dental assisting opportunities seem to be growing.

What, exactly, does temp dental assisting entail? And how can you know if it’s right for you?

What is a temporary dental assistant?

A temporary, or fill-in, dental assistant is hired when a practice has a staffing need. Dental offices may hire temporary employees to help during busy periods, cover for a staff member on leave, or address a shortage of dental assistants on staff. Job assignments may last anywhere from a day to several months. Practices usually expect temporary dental assistants to already have the experience, skills, and knowledge for the job so that they don’t need to provide additional training.

Although offices may have small differences in policies, day-to-day operations, and what they ask of a temporary dental assistant, the basic role of a temporary dental assistant is the same as a full-time one. Responsibilities may include helping the dentist or hygienist during appointments, preparing and sterilizing exam rooms, answering patient questions, taking x-rays, stocking supply rooms, managing patient records, or scheduling and confirming appointments.

Is being a temporary dental assistant right for you?

Here are a few ways to know if temporary dental assisting is a fit for you:

  • You want flexibility. As a temp dental assistant, you can set your own schedule and find your ideal work-life balance. You have the freedom to choose when and where you work, offering you more flexibility to take vacations and manage responsibilities such as school or childcare.
  • You like meeting new people. Temporary dental assistants get to visit different communities and practices, allowing you to meet new people, expand your professional network, and learn from others.
  • You are adaptable. No matter the industry, being a temporary employee requires adaptability. If you’re skilled at working with all kinds of people and can quickly pick up on new policies, software, and technology, you might excel as a temp dental assistant.
  • You want to set your own pay rate. This is often the biggest draw of being a temporary dental assistant. As a temporary employee, you can set your own hourly pay rate. And due to the ongoing dental assistant shortage, practices may be willing to pay more to fill their open roles. DANB’s salary survey found that the median pay rate is $25 per hour for Certified Dental Assistants who work as temps. That’s more than $5 per hour above the national median for all dental assistants and $1 more per hour than the median rate for all CDAs.

It’s also important to consider the cons of temporary dental assisting. While you can be a temp dental assistant on a full-time basis, the work could be unsteady since practices in your area may not always have staffing needs. Temping can be ideal for someone who is seeking supplemental income, but it may not always be the best option if you’re relying on it as a primary source of income.

Temp dental assistants also don’t receive employee benefits that typically come with a full-time position, such as health insurance and retirement plans. This may not be an issue if you’re on a spouse’s benefits plan — if not, though, you will likely have to pay for these benefits on your own. However, you can offset some of this out-of-pocket cost by setting a higher hourly fee.

How to become a temporary dental assistant

There are several ways to find temporary dental assisting positions. Job boards such as Indeed allow you to filter your search by employment type (e.g., full-time, part-time, temporary). The DANB job board may also have temporary positions listed in your area.

You can also work with a third-party agency, such as the ones below, to receive job assignments:

Read more: How to make a smooth transition to a new dental office