There are ups and downs in any career. But when you find a profession you love, navigating the challenging times becomes easier — just ask any longtime dental assistant.
Many dental assistants stay in the profession for decades because they enjoy working with patients, thrive on the camaraderie of a dental office, or simply love dentistry. Of course, even long, successful careers don’t come without bumps in the road.
Currently, the dental assisting profession is facing several challenges, including a workforce shortage and a decline in job satisfaction due to factors such as low pay and lack of appreciation.
Understandably, dental assistants who are early in their careers may be wondering how to proceed in these choppy waters. We turned to some seasoned assistants who’ve seen it all to pass along their advice.
What words of encouragement do you have for newer dental assistants facing today’s challenges?
Adrienne Hightower, CDA: “My advice to fellow colleagues is not to settle in an office that you are not comfortable in. I have always believed that you are not only being interviewed by your dentist, but you are also interviewing the office. Always believe in yourself as well as your self-worth!”
“My advice to fellow colleagues is not to settle in an office that you are not comfortable in. I have always believed that you are not only being interviewed by your dentist, but you are also interviewing the office. Always believe in yourself as well as your self-worth!”
— Adrienne Hightower, CDA
Michelle Foley, CDA: “My hope for new dental assistants is that you won’t give up. The right office is out there for you. Be proud of what you do and give back when you can.”
Rachelle Pickwick, CDA: “I would say make your concerns known to the doctor. If you’re not happy, let them know. Know your worth by being an excellent dental assistant, continuing your education, and becoming the best you can be. Respect yourself and be confident.”
Betsy Crowder, CDA: “Be confident in yourself and your abilities. You’ve got this!”
Shannon Hauser, CDA: “Remember how important you are every day. You work hard, you keep things going smoothly, you are trusted. Be proud of your career.”
How have you navigated challenges or uncertainty in your career?
Hightower: “I have navigated the challenges in my career through open communication with my dentist. I have been very fortunate to work with a dentist that has an open-office-door policy when problems arise. It took me some time to find that perfect fit for me, but this search has paid off and I work with an amazing dentist.”
Foley: “Going the extra mile has always been part of the job for me. I have always felt that a dental assistant should be humble but confident in your work, and your care for patients will shine through. I would say that the majority of the time an increase in pay was given to me, it was because of my care for patients. Even though I feel very strongly about continuing education and keeping myself up to date in the field, patient care has always been the number one priority.”
What has made you stay in the dental assisting profession all these years?
Foley: “I love taking care of people and making sure they have the best possible experience during their dental visit. Sometimes that goes beyond just the visit they had that day. A follow-up call the next day, especially after extended treatment, lets the patient know you care about them even after they have walked out the door.”
“I love taking care of people and making sure they have the best possible experience during their dental visit. Sometimes that goes beyond just the visit they had that day. A follow-up call the next day, especially after extended treatment, lets the patient know you care about them even after they have walked out the door.”
— Michelle Foley, CDA
Pickwick: “I enjoy helping people by giving them a great smile and educating them. I am just a helper by nature.”
Hightower: “Believing in my skills and having a team surrounding me has definitely made staying in dentistry a lot easier. My passion for quality patient care has also kept me focused on why I am in dentistry.”
Looking back, what do you wish you would’ve known when you started your career? What advice would you give to your younger self?
Foley: “Finding the right fit can be difficult, but I would say don’t ever be afraid to ask questions during an interview. I have often asked if the office I’m interviewing in does any volunteer work. It says a lot about an office if they enjoy giving back to their community. I would encourage my fellow dental assistants to volunteer at some point during their career. It definitely puts things in perspective.”
Hightower: “I would tell my younger self not to be afraid to put yourself out there while maintaining high standards for the offices I worked in. I would also tell myself to obtain as many certifications as I could. The more certifications you have, the more valuable you become to your dental team.”