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How do you handle the tough days in your dental practice?

Aug. 22, 2019
Do you handle the tough days with grit, or do you crumble under pressure? How you handle those less-than-ideal days may determine the success of your career.
Kevin Henry, Cofounder,

Here’s a question for you. Do you have grit? No, I’m not talking about the Southern delicacy here. When I ask about your “grit level,” I’m talking about perseverance, determination, and the ability to fight through tough times. Why do I ask? Let me tell you a little story.

I recently had the pleasure of presenting a course with my friends Teresa Duncan (the guru of all things dental insurance) and Cindy Durley (the executive director of Dental Assisting National Board Inc. and the DALE Foundation) at the American Association of Dental Office Management (AADOM) meeting in Orlando. Our talk focused on trends in the dental industry and we each took turns discussing what changes are coming for dental practices, detailing everything from millennials to group practices to coding changes.

When Cindy took her turn leading the presentation, she focused on what is on the horizon for dental assistants in the coming years. It was a fascinating talk that I wish all of you could have heard. She detailed what the workforce will look like in the near future (hint, dental assistants will still be the biggest group of dental health-care providers—and that number is only going to grow) and there will be plenty of opportunities for assistants to impact not only their patients’ lives but the bottom lines of their businesses as well.

In a portion of her talk, Cindy mentioned that as part of their fascinating research, DANB and the DALE Foundation asked dentists about the value of dental assistants to the dental practice, and about the characteristics they find most desirable in dental assistants. The five most important qualities dentists wanted to see in their dental assistants were: possessing good patient care skills, being a team player, being willing to learn, taking ownership of their work, and showing initiative. Essentially, dentists are looking for dental assistants with “grit.”

Sure, they love your clinical skills. They love the way that you interact with patients as well. However, dentists want to know that you can be a rock during those days in the practice that aren’t very much fun. You know those days, right? The ones where you’re just counting down the minutes until you walk out of the practice and indulge in your favorite beverage to help you forget the day that was.

Hey, those days happen, and they happen at any job. However, how you handle those moments and how you can bounce back from them shows a lot about your grit.

How can you boost your grit level?

I have a couple of ideas here.

First, shake things off. With all due respect to Taylor Swift, it really is about shaking things off right after they happen. When I played golf with a friend of mine, he always talked about how important the recovery shot was. If the ball landed in a sand trap, did you grumble about being in the sand, or did you focus on the next shot needed to get you out of that bad spot? My friend’s philosophy was to put the last shot behind him and focus on the next shot . . . and the shot after that. If he did that, he had a much better chance of salvaging his score. He believed that if someone focused more on what happened, that person would be far more likely to keep hitting bad shots and muttering about the bad things. And you know what? He was exactly right.

The same also holds true in day-to-day activities. What happens when a patient or the doctor runs late, or when an instrument hits the floor? Do you get angry or frustrated, and does that feeling stay with you or are you able to shake it off, shake it off? (That’s my best Taylor Swift impersonation there. You’re welcome.)

Getting through a tough spot without letting it affect the rest of your day can be a way to not only measure your grit but boost that grit as well.

Second, how often do you let the opinions of others affect the opinion of yourself or your work? If you’re letting someone else in the practice (or in your life) dictate your happiness, it’s time to put an end to that. Putting the thoughts of others aside and focusing on your belief in yourself can not only boost your happiness, but going through it and coming out better on the other side can raise your grit level.

I know for a fact that dental assistants are gritty individuals, and I mean that as a high compliment. The amount of work you do for the amount of pay you receive shows your grit. And that’s exactly what future employers (and maybe your next dentist) are looking for right now.

How do you show your grit every day? What are you doing to make sure that nothing makes that grit waver? Those are big questions to consider as the dental assisting career path and opportunities within it keep growing.

Together We Rise…


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About the Author

Kevin Henry | Cofounder,

With more than 20 years in the dental publishing industry, Kevin Henry is the former editor of Dental Assisting Digest. He now serves as the co-founder for IgniteDA, a community designed to empower, enlighten, and educate dental assistants. He has spoken to dental assistants throughout the world, in person and through the Dental Assistant Nation podcast series, reminding them of the important role they play every day in their practice.