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The survey reveals . . . the truth about your practices

March 22, 2021
Check out assistants' insights from our latest DA survey. From PPE and safety to communication or a lack thereof, we heard from YOU about how things are going these days.

We recently asked and you answered! We wanted to know how you felt about your personal protective equipment, returning to work during COVID-19, and more. I’m happy to report that a majority of dental assistants are happy in their positions for a variety of reasons. They feel safe, are seeing patients return in droves, and believe their dentist communicates well.

There were many interesting answers. Thanks to those of you who took a few minutes to send in your thoughts. Please read on to see what your peers had to say . . .

Q1: Do you feel like your office is using the proper PPE with all of the new protocols in place?

A: Thank goodness 80% of you reported that you feel comfortable, but that means 20% of you are not happy with your current PPE. That’s too many if you ask me.

Q2: Do you feel safe going into the office to work during COVID?

A: Whew! A whopping 86% of you feel safe, but that leaves 14% of you who do not feel good about going into work! I sure hope that improves, and soon.

Q3: Why don’t you feel safe?

A: Generally, those of you who do not feel safe are concerned about aerosols, improper ventilation, and lack of PPE as prescribed by OSHA. A few others said that the doctors themselves were not wearing proper PPE. Other respondents said there was no social distancing or protocols being followed in the office.

Q4: Does your office participate in annual safety updates with OSHA?

A: 84% of you do OSHA training annually. That leaves an alarming 16% of you who do not carry out annual OSHA training. I’m sure you all know that this is mandatory, therefore somebody—generally the doctor as the practice leader—needs to get on board and get this started!

Q5: Since returning to work during COVID, is your office close to operating at pre-COVID levels?

A: Fortunately, 64% of your offices are operating at pre-COVID levels. But that leave 36% of you who are still struggling to get back to those levels. Some doctors do not want to fully open back up. While many offices report being busier than ever, there are still those that remain uncomfortable providing dentistry at full capacity.

Q6: What percentage level is your office currently operating?

A: Of those who responded to this, the majority said that they’re operating at or above 70%. The others indicated they are at 100% or 50% levels.  

Q7: Are your patients receptive to dental care during this time?

A: The good news is that most patients are ready to return to their dental offices, as 87% of you said. That leaves 13% of patients who haven’t returned to your offices yet. This shows that some people—and my guess would be the elderly or those who are immunocompromised—are choosing to wait for treatment for the time being.

Q8: Why do you think some patients are not receptive?

A: Responses included, “They want reassurance about universal safety precautions,” “Fear of leaving their houses and going out,” “Patients are scared,” “Fear of COVID,” “Loss of income due to COVID layoffs,” and “Ignorance.” Ignorance is due to lack of proper education and research.

Q9: If you are wearing an N95 mask, do you have proper medical clearance and fit testing?

A: An alarming 64% of you said no, and only 36% said yes to this! Let me remind you that this is mandatory!

Q10: Is the dentist understanding and communicative with the team about changes regarding COVID?

A: It is great to hear that 89% of you responded affirmatively to this question. This is surprising to me considering the previous question and its responses. Only 11% of you are stuck working with a boss who is not understanding or communicative.

Q11: What is the dentist doing right or wrong when it comes to communication?

A: There were a variety of answers here. Dental assistants are concerned about “not following all guidelines,” “not screening employees for temperatures,” “doctors who don’t take a firm stance on COVID protocols,” “lack of leadership,” and “doctors who do not explain things well.” Several team members said they must get information from other sources because their employers are not providing it. One respondent said the doctor “only cares about production,” while another said her “pedal is to the metal” all day long. But there was a nice mix of positive comments as well, from “great communicator,” “open door policy,” and “keeps us informed,” to “provides updates each morning at the huddle,” and “took action about COVID right away.”

Q12: Does the dentist allow employees to have personal flexibility due to the virus?

A: It was wonderful to hear that a majority—67%—have personal flexibility in their positions. But that leaves a whopping 33% who must work without that basic luxury.

I truly enjoy the information that’s gathered in these anonymous surveys. It reveals the true stories of what is happening in our practices today. Most of you seem to be happy with the communication, protocols, and flexibility of your practices. You operate on a team concept and help each other, and this is what we strive for daily in our practices.

It’s sad that in a time of uncertainty many of you feel lost, left out of the office communication, and like you have to fend for yourselves. It’s times like this that can make or break us. I hope all of you are holding your ground and taking a stand for what you believe in. Never settle for less, because you are valuable! There is a massive shortage of dental assistants right now, and you are in demand. If you do not feel valued or appreciated, there are many other offices that need you and will treat you well. Know your worth, find the right fit, and take care of yourself.

Thank you to everyone who answered this survey! We love hearing from you. Be watching for the next Dental Assisting Digest survey and use your voice to help promote our wonderful profession.

About the Author

Tija Hunter, CDA, EFDA

Tija Hunter, CDA, CDIA, CDIPC, CDSH, CDSO, EFDA, MADAA, is a member and former vice president of the American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA), where she holds the honor of Master. She is the director of the Dental Careers Institute, a dental assisting and dental continuing education program, and the author of seven continuing education study courses. She is an international speaker and a certified trainer in nitrous oxide in several states. She can be reached at [email protected].

Updated January 12, 2024