Most dental assistants say they love their jobs, for many reasons. They love working with patients to help them improve their oral health. They enjoy helping to alleviate patient anxiety so that patients have a successful appointment, and so that patients are motivated to come back to the office in the future. They love working alongside dental colleagues who are also committed to providing exceptional patient care.
Beyond this, many dental assistants say they love working not just in the dental field, but for their employer in particular. We know dental assistants who boast employment longevity with the same practice — 5, 10, even 20-plus years! Consider that DANB Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) certificants have been with the same employer for an average of almost 8 years, according to DANB’s 2020-2021 Dental Assistants Salary and Satisfaction Survey.
Dental assistants who are satisfied with their workplace often say it has become their second home and their colleagues are like family.
Even when this is the case, it’s not uncommon for dental assistants to sometimes identify changes they wish they could make in their professional lives, especially when workdays can start to feel a bit too routine or, on the flip side, too challenging. It’s normal to wonder if more could exist for you professionally. You might sometimes dream of making a change to enhance your overall job satisfaction .
It’s when thoughts such as these start to be less fleeting and more persistent that a dental assistant might consider “shaking up” their professional path a bit.
But how do you know what changes to make in your dental assistant career, and when? We offer some advice here.
When you’re ready for a new challenge
Dental assistants say they love their careers because of all the opportunities that exist for expanding their knowledge and taking their careers to the next level. Educated and experienced dental assistants may be able to take on additional responsibilities and grow into new roles — such as performing expanded functions as allowed in their state, taking on office-management and infection control duties, and more. Plus, dental assistants who stay up-to-date with changes in dentistry say they feel energized about and engaged in their career path.
However, if you feel you have limited chances for learning and advancing at your current office, you may be thinking about making a change.
Consider staying: Looking for new challenges and responsibilities during your workday? Talk to your supervisor because opportunities may exist for you to do just that. Perhaps your employer has some ideas about how you can cross-train in the dental office, complete more continuing education, earn DANB certification, pursue the OSAP-DALE Foundation Dental Infection Prevention and Control Certificate™, earn an expanded functions credential, or more.
Enhancing your education or earning additional credentials may enable you to perform additional duties as allowed in your state. Or you might be able to transition into a new position, such as dental office manager, lead dental assistant, or infection control coordinator. The sky’s the limit for those who embrace their own professional development goals! And doing so usually starts with asking your employer about ways to grow in your role or office.
Consider going: If you feel as though there are limited learning and growth opportunities at your current practice and your employer has not been receptive to your inquiries about career growth, consider moving to a different office where professional development is better supported. Explore your professional networks — particularly, ask dental assistants and other professionals you respect and trust to keep an eye out for openings. They might even put in a good word for you!
When you’re overworked
Dental assistants typically juggle many tasks in the dental office. Over the past year or so, we’ve heard about dental assistants taking on more duties than ever before. There seems to be more to do and fewer people to do it, with many areas of the country experiencing shortages of dental assistants. With work/life balance being a top factor for dental assistants’ job satisfaction, when the scale is out of balance, it can feel like it might be time to see what else is out there.
Consider staying: If you’re starting to feel swamped with work in the dental office, you might consider bringing this observation to your supervisor. Together you could brainstorm the best ways to re-delegate the work so that no one person on the team feels overloaded. Or your employer might consider hiring another team member to help out. Alternatively, you could bring up the possibility of receiving a small raise to compensate for the extra duties you’ve been performing.
Consider going: If any turnover on your team can’t be quickly addressed, and your extra duties seem here to stay, it might be time to seek out another office with a bigger team who all share in the workload. While interviewing for another dental assistant role, ask about team size and delegation of duties to find out if you’ll have better work/life balance in your new position.
When your team isn’t getting along
Dental assisting is a profession for a “people person” — because dental assistants certainly work with many people throughout the day, patients and colleagues alike. According to the results of DANB’s 2020-2021 Dental Assistants Salary and Satisfaction Survey, feeling like part of a team is one of the top factors determining dental assistant job satisfaction. And when you don’t always feel like you are, that can make a day in the dental office seem more challenging.
While some dental assistants love their teams, unfortunately, others say their team dynamics are frustrating. Some report working with colleagues demonstrating attributes they deem to be negative or rude (such as chronic lateness). When this is the case, you might wonder whether this team is the right fit for you.
Consider staying: It’s helpful to keep in mind that issues you may be experiencing with co-workers might not even be about you. For example, a chronically late co-worker may just have a bad commute or car troubles, and the issue may not be personal to you at all. If you can reframe how you view your co-workers’ actions and focus on the positive, the situation may feel more manageable.
However, if a co-worker seems to be consistently negative or rude toward you, try having a polite, professional conversation with them. Or consider asking your supervisor for their support when it comes to addressing any ongoing issues.
Consider going: If the issue seems to boil down to an overall culture mismatch — the entire team seems to exude negativity, for example, and this consistently goes unnoticed and unaddressed by management — it may be time to find a different workplace. Consider, though, that wherever there are people working together, there are dynamics to be navigated.
When you’re seeking a higher salary or more benefits
Also according to the results of DANB’s 2020-2021 Dental Assistants Salary and Satisfaction Survey, salary is a top factor in dental assistants’ job satisfaction. And dental assistants’ feelings about their compensation package seem to be mixed. While some dental assistants say they feel satisfied with their pay and benefits, others say their wages could be better. Looking for a higher salary can be one of the main reasons a dental assistant may take to the job boards.
Consider staying: Luckily, dental assistants have the opportunity to grow their salaries without making a drastic change such as switching offices. This is because salary can vary depending on many factors, such as experience. So if you’re just starting out in dental assisting, you may wish to put in the work and after a few years, assess whether you’re motivated to continue staying the course.
Dental assistants with more experience and credentials tend to earn more than those who are new to the profession. Earning DANB certification or state credentials are all ways to take on more duties and potentially increase your earnings. Dental assistants who hold DANB’s CDA certification earn about $2 more per hour and are more likely to receive raises than those who are not certified.
If increasing your salary is your goal, look into earning DANB certification and exploring the career ladder in your state. Then, sit down with your employer and discuss your goals. If your employer is open to supporting you in your professional development and is willing to compensate you accordingly, sticking with the same practice may be the way to go.
Consider going: If you’ve already committed to your career growth, and you still find yourself not being compensated accordingly, it could be time to find another job. With the shortage of dental assistants, many practices are offering hiring bonuses and may be willing to pay dental assistants more than they have before. It never hurts to interview and see what opportunities may be out there for you.
And, if you do receive an offer with a higher salary, consider giving your current employer the chance to make a counteroffer to match. Turnover is costly, and your employer may be willing to give you a raise to keep you on board.