3 essential qualities of a dental assistant

smiling dental assistant with crossed arms

This article is written by Yvette S. Medellin, MAADOM, and contributed by the American Association of Dental Office Management.

In a recent poll, I asked over 500 dental office managers on dental office manager Facebook groups: Tell me the top three qualities you look for when hiring a rock-star dental assistant.

After sifting through numerous responses, I curated the top 35 responses. However, during this review process, an intriguing pattern emerged. Almost every respondent emphasized the importance of not seeking a rock-star candidate. One particularly memorable comment highlighted the pitfalls of hiring a rock star, saying they are often “unpredictable and come with groupies.”

So, let’s rephrase the question: What are the top three qualities you cannot live without when hiring your next dental assistant? Here is my list.

Good communication skills

Good communication is paramount. It’s important to remember that there are four important components that define dental assistants as strong communicators:

  1. Written communication: Creating documentation in dental records, emails, and texts with patients, and when referring practices.
  2. Oral communication: Having the ability to effectively communicate with the team, doctor, and patients.
  3. Nonverbal communication: Being mindful of facial expressions, gestures, eye contact, and posture with patients and colleagues.
  4. Active listening: Fully concentrating on what the speaker is saying, comprehending the message, and responding appropriately.


One recurring theme that emerged from my Facebook poll is the importance of being open to learning and personal growth. Attributes such as being willing to learn, teachable, and motivated to grow encapsulate this quality, in my view.

Consider this story of a coachable dental assistant. We had a dental assistant start working with us with no experience. She was a patient in our office, and sitting there one day, watching the chaos, she said to the doctor, “You need an assistant, and I need a job.” So we hired her. This new hire learned everything, took notes, kept sketches of tray setups, and sought getting an x-ray license on her own. She continuously asked the doctor for feedback and to teach her more. She was by far the best dental assistant we have ever had. I loved that she wanted to learn and that she was open to correcting mistakes. She took great pride in her work and really enjoyed working with our patients.

A heart for service

It’s undeniable that a desire to help others is a fundamental requirement for being a successful dental professional. Throughout my career, I’ve encountered dental assistants who struggled with aspects of patient care, whether it was having discomfort with physical demands (like being on their feet), aversion to oral-hygiene issues (such as foul breath), or frustration with patient complaints. However, it’s crucial to recognize that addressing these concerns is why we’re here — to address the root causes, pun intended, of dental issues and ensure patients leave our care with improved health and happiness.

Starting my dental career marked a vast departure from my previous career in business consulting. Initially disheartened by the consistently grumpy demeanor of incoming patients, I soon realized a profound truth: Even the most irritable individuals left the office with smiles and feelings of relief and gratitude after being met with compassion by the dental team — including the dental assistant. Witnessing this patient transformation fueled my personal mission, and I now seek to hire dental assistants who share in the gratification of improving patients’ health and well-being.

These insights taken from polling dental office managers shed light on the evolving expectations for hiring dental assistants. The shift away from seeking rock-star candidates underscores a deeper understanding of the essential qualities needed for success in the dental assistant role. Communication skills, coachability, and a genuine heart for service emerged as the top priorities.

As I reflect on my own hiring experiences and the transformative impact of dedicated team members, I am reminded of the importance of prioritizing these qualities when selecting dental assistants in the future, and I hopefully have given you something to think about when making your next hiring decision. 

Yvette Medellin

About the Author

Yvette S. Medellin, MAADOM, graduated from Pepperdine University in 1998 with a Master of Business Administration. Prior to working in dentistry, she was a business consultant in the entertainment industry for over 16 years. Medellin has spent the last nine years helping her husband, Joe, build their dental practice, OrthoGrace Dental, along with their dental lab, 4M Dental Labs. Medellin earned her AADOM Fellowship in 2022 and Mastership in 2023. She is a board member of AADOM’s Dental Spouse Business Network. To learn more about AADOM’s resources for dental professionals, and to find more peer-to-peer inspiration, visit www.dentalmanagers.com.