Why these dental assistants love their military careers

woman in helicopter with mountains in background

Across all types of workplaces, dental assistants report high job satisfaction, according to the results of DANB’s 2020-2021 Dental Assistants Salary and Satisfaction Survey. But dental assistants working in the military have an especially strong passion for their profession.

In fact, many DANB Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) certificants have found their dental homes through the military.

Angelica M., CDA (pictured above), is one example of a dental assistant who is very satisfied with her military role. “Hands down, it has been the best decision I’ve made in life,” she says. “I owe my career to the U.S. Army, and the amazing prosthodontist I was assigned to who helped train me.”

We spoke to several dental assistants who discussed their favorite things about working in a military setting. Read on below!

1. Serving the troops

First and foremost, dental assistants who work in or for the military are proud to use their dental knowledge and skill sets to help treat soldiers and their families.

For instance, Angelica has approximately eight years of dental experience with the U.S. military, serving the troops. For six years, she was an active-duty dental assistant in the U.S. Army; now, Angelica maintains dual military status as both a civilian dental assistant working for an oral and maxillofacial surgery office and a member of the Alaska National Guard, serving as a dental assistant.

Angelica explains that dental teams working in or for the military strive to ensure servicemen and women are “performance ready” for their deployment, when they’ll be away from dental services. “We want troops to be at their peak of health,” Angelica says, adding, “Being part of a team that helps serve our country’s troops is amazing.”

Rebecca S., CDA, also is grateful to have served the troops in her civilian dental assistant role with the U.S. Army, which she held from mid-2015 to mid-2018. Rebecca’s husband recently retired from the U.S. Army after 22 years, and her son currently serves as a paratrooper with the U.S. Army.

“Working for the U.S. Army was a great experience for me,” elaborates Rebecca, who is now an assistant in private practice. “I am very grateful for my time with the U.S. Army, because it gave me a sense of satisfaction that I could give back to those who serve. I wanted to give all our soldier patients the care and professionalism that I would want for my family members. I met many people from all over the United States and foreign countries, made a lot of friends and got to work with some great patients.”

Tai D., CDA, agrees; he says the best part of dental assisting in the U.S. Air Force is the people — everyone he meets, including dental professionals from all over the world and those he helps to treat. “I enjoy interacting with the patients and learning from their experiences,” Tai shares.

2. Training in a unique setting

Working in a military setting also can bring unique, fast-paced opportunities to learn. For instance, Travis D., CDA, credits the military for helping to launch his dental assistant career. While he was in the U.S. Navy, he trained “constantly,” learning the ins and outs of the field and becoming motivated to continue studying and working as a dental assistant in a university healthcare setting after his military tenure ended. “I fell in love with it,” Travis shares, of the profession.

Katharine N., CDA, CRFDA, spent 26 years as a dental assistant in the U.S. Navy Reserve and has since transitioned into a non-dental role with the Air National Guard. She agrees military service offered her unique training as a dental professional.

“I learned about new cultures, techniques and available dental products from all dental disciplines that I was not exposed to on a daily basis in civilian private practice,” Katharine reflects. “Additionally, I experienced many times how to logistically set up and break down a dental clinic with portable equipment in a location not originally made for dental care (like a desert, jungle, or small room in a school).

“We were able to achieve the result of a qualified dental clinic where dental professionals were able to work closely and safely together,” Katharine adds.

The military provides assistants with the opportunity not only to learn, but also to mentor others. For example, “I help manage our education and training program for 19 active-duty military members and 15 host nation civilians,” says Tai, who has been a dental assistant in the U.S. Air Force for 14 years.

“Part of my responsibilities is to ensure that all of our dental assistants receive the best hands-on training to be fully qualified to work independently with our doctors and continuously strive to hold DANB certification,” continues Tai, who encourages his peers to utilize DALE Foundation resources for exam preparation and continued learning.

“It is my duty to ensure that they are trained to their full potential so that as they progress in their careers, they will follow my example to become successful training managers.”

3. Traveling to new places

Travel also can be a top job benefit for dental assistants who work in a military setting — as some work globally with dental teams that treat underserved, remote communities.

In her career, Katharine has traveled often with the military — which she says is exhilarating! “Traveling with the military has been one of the most exciting events in my life,” she elaborates. “I have traveled all over the world and into very remote areas by every way imaginable, including planes, helicopters, trains, boats, ships, Humvees, 5-ton trucks, and by foot, hiking for miles. Whatever got us to the mission safely and with all of our gear intact was how we traveled.”

Tai agrees traveling is one of his favorite aspects of dental assisting in the military. “I’ve been fortunate to be able to visit numerous countries to support humanitarian missions, provide health services outreach, and provide knowledge-exchange lectures about my experiences as a dental assistant to other medical personnel around the world,” he shares.

Angelica also occasionally travels for military work, albeit more locally. “Being a part of the military, we are always training, which does allow me to travel out of state and around the state of Alaska on occasion. I enjoy it,” Angelica shares. “Sometimes, unit exercises include helicopter flights — it’s exciting!”

Learn more

Also, learn more about the research: