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No Respect

From the editor’s desk: A common thread among dental assistants: You do not feel appreciated

June 18, 2020
No matter where her travels take her, DAD editor Tija Hunter, CDA, EFDA, hears the same thing from most dental assistants: you do not feel respected or appreciated. Why is that, and what can you do to change it?

I’m fortunate enough to be able to travel all over the world. I get to speak to and interact with dental assistants wherever I go, and it truly is a blessing. Last year, I was asked to go to Saudi Arabia to speak, and this year, I was invited to speak in Canada. I have friends in the United Kingdom and Australia. We have all heard that dentistry is a small world and I can say without hesitation, that is true! One thing that stands out to me no matter where I go is how much dental assistants are alike.

I ask all over, including on Facebook a few months ago, “What is your biggest pet peeve in the dental office?” I got many of the usual responses, such as late patients, no-shows, people who won’t swallow their own saliva (my personal favorite), to name a few. However, overwhelmingly some of the same answers kept popping up—respect, appreciation, and wages.

I expect to hear about wages from dental assistants and I’ve heard many opinions on the subject. After all, no two states seem to be alike in anything, so why would wages be any different? When you factor in cost of living in any given area, wages are all over the place. But wages did not take the number one spot on my personal survey. Respect and appreciation tied for the number one pet peeves among dental assistants. It’s a common thread we have that connects us wherever we go.

I keep asking myself why so many of us feel little respect and appreciation? Are dentists taught this mindset in dental school? Are team members taught this in orientation for their jobs? I have yet to come up with any answers, but I do have some ideas.

Unfortunately, in many countries including the US, dental assistants are often not licensed, and they do not need any formal training or a prerequisite to get a job as an oral health-care worker. They are often hired “off the street” and receive on-the-job training. I have no problem with that; however, someone is only as good as the person who trains them. If the person who’s training doesn’t have the knowledge needed to do the job correctly, that lack of knowledge gets passed on again and again. You don’t know what you don’t know.

As vital members of the health-care team, education should become the most important aspect of dental assistants’ jobs, be that formal education or continuing education. When the most important job many of us do day-in and day-out is infection control and keeping our patients safe, I believe that properly educating our teams should be priority number one!

What does this have to do with appreciation and respect? When a practice is required to hire educated team members who are licensed, the dynamics of who we are as assistants will change. If I hear one more time, “I’m just a dental assistant,” I might lose my mind! We aren’t a warm body and we aren’t the low man on the totem pole! We are oral health-care professionals, and when held to a higher standard we will certainly receive the respect and appreciation that we deserve.

Our talents as dental assistants are in need all over the country. I hear wherever I go that assistants are in demand! Good assistants are being paid well and treated right. As a dental assistant and as a person, be good to yourself and don’t allow anyone to treat you as if you do not matter. If you don’t require anyone to appreciate or respect you, most people will not. It starts with you. Until the day we’re required to have training, and we are respected because of it, we must each demand respect for ourselves.

You are amazing. Always remember that!

Tija Hunter, CDA, EFDA, CDIA, CDSO, CDSH, MADAA, is a member and current vice president of the American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA), where she holds the honor of Master. Tija is the editor of Dental Assisting Digest and contributes to Dental Economics magazine. 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].