According to DANB’s 2020-2021 Dental Assistants Salary and Satisfaction Survey, dental assistants enjoy working in a variety of settings — including dental specialty practices.
Dental specialty practices focus on areas such as endodontics, oral surgery, orthodontics, pediatric dentistry, periodontics and prosthodontics; and there are multispecialty practices as well.
“I work in orthodontics and love that area,” says Susan K., COA.
Carlita R., CDA, also occasionally works with orthodontic patients — a role she very much enjoys. “I have no regrets. I have a good income and work for an incredible dentist.”
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to work in a specialty practice, here are a few things you might expect.
Unique procedures and experiences
Dental assistants who work in dental specialties seem to agree this environment is an ideal place to grow professionally, whether the specialty setting is in a larger environment, such as a hospital, or a smaller office. In both environments, assistants say they are able to expand their knowledge and hone their skill sets while helping to provide specialized care to patients.
Shannon C., CDA, says she’s learned so much while working in pediatric dentistry in a hospital setting. For example, she has been able to assist with a variety of procedures, such as endodontics, periodontics and cosmetics, as well as routine dental procedures. She also has been able to work with patients with different medical conditions, such as rare genetic diseases. “I would not have seen this range of cases in a private practice,” she notes.
In recent years, she’s even been able to take on a management role and explore the business side of dentistry when she transitioned to clinic manager. “I have had an excellent career,” Shannon shares. “It’s always interesting, and I learn new things on a daily basis.”
Similarly, Laura R., CDA, CPFDA, CRFDA, spent more than 20 years in an endodontics setting before transitioning to general dentistry six years ago. Unlike Shannon, however, Laura’s experience was in a smaller office setting. There, she didn’t observe many different procedures, but rather gained experience assisting with the same types of procedures each day. Laura says for her, this was the perfect way to build a foundation in dentistry.
“If you’re someone who tends to get very overwhelmed by things, smaller specialty practices can be awesome for learning, because you’re doing the same thing over and over again,” Laura adds. “This can allow you to feel less overwhelmed while gaining the experience you need.”
Dental team support
As in other areas of dentistry, assistants in specialty settings typically enjoy the support of a dedicated dental team. With this dynamic, everyone is committed to providing patients with the best care possible.
For example, Kelly N., CDA — who works with special needs patients in a dental specialty setting — enjoys the interactions each day brings. “I love everything about the operating room where we assist in treating patients [having oral surgery], from the sterile smells to the camaraderie that comes from the nurses and staff. I truly enjoy the people I help to treat, the doctors I work with and where I get to work.”
Carolyn G., CDA, has assisted in pediatric dentistry, orthodontics and general dentistry. In her career, she has experienced exceptional dental team camaraderie. Carolyn believes teamwork translates into enhanced patient care, no matter the office type. “When the patient is satisfied and grateful for treatment well done, that means the patient came first and everyone on the team worked together.”
Additionally, specialty dental teams can be tight-knit and supportive of one another’s career growth. For example, Laura’s employers have always encouraged her to pursue training opportunities in specialty areas. This has helped to enhance her on-the-job knowledge and skills. She now holds multiple DANB certifications and has completed DALE Foundation courses to enhance her knowledge.
“If there is ever a course I need or want to take, I am encouraged to do that,” Laura says.
Lastly, dental assistants say working in specialty settings can be very meaningful, with especially appreciative patients. Shannon has observed this in her career. “Many patients are referred to us for specialized care,” she says. “Oftentimes, patients who have been unable to have treatment completed at another office are extremely grateful.”
In endodontics, Laura agrees she “absolutely” saw an enhanced level of patient gratitude. “When people come in, they’re scared, and they’re in pain. Most of them are just so grateful that you were able to help them get out of pain.” This can be significant for all involved.
“Seeing the happiness that patients share after receiving care is very rewarding,” agrees Lora L., CDA, an oral surgery assistant. “Being able to contribute to patient satisfaction is hugely satisfying for me.”
And in orthodontics, as in many areas of dentistry, treatment outcomes can be extremely impactful for the patient — as well as for their dental team. “I feel like I am helping children grow into being more confident adults, and adult patients become more confident, with their smiles,” says Nancy C., COA.
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