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Myth busters for dental assistants: It’s time to leave dental assisting

Oct. 22, 2021
Are you ready to ditch dental assisting and attend dental hygiene school? Think about it first. Weigh the pros and cons, and you might be surprised at the real problem.

I’m getting out of assisting. I get no respect and the money sucks. I’ll go to hygiene school, I’ll make decent money, and everything will be better. Right? Wrong!

Chasing the money will not make you happy, and if it does, it won’t be for long.

I hear way too often from dental assistants who tell me they want to move over to hygiene so they can make more money. I’m here to tell you—the money is not the only thing you should consider when making a big move like that.

I do get where they’re coming from. Being a dental assistant is hard work. We carry a huge burden in our practices. We work under stressful conditions. Some days we don’t get a break, not even for lunch. We’re expected to do more for less. Sometimes we’re simply bored out of our minds because things are so slow in the office.

Maybe you feel stuck and feel like your career isn’t moving forward. After 40 years in the dental assisting field, I can tell you this . . . it’s not that you’re in the wrong profession, you’re in the wrong practice!

Running away from dental assisting to hygiene school is not for everyone. It’s a two- or four-year educational commitment that costs a great deal of money, and those student loans will have to be repaid. Often, you’re not able to hold down a full-time job and attend school at the same time.

Not being happy in a place where you spend so much of your time is toxic. It disrupts your life at home, it causes you to lose sleep, and it can impact your health in ways you never imagined. I understand why someone would want to jump ship from a bad practice. And I do admit that many of today’s dental hygienists started as assistants and paid their dues in hygiene school and are very happy in their careers. But keep in mind, it’s no cake walk.

For those of you who believe you want to leave assisting, I ask you to think about this: if you plan to go into hygiene and you’re doing this for the pay, you’re doing it for the wrong reason! Like I said, the extra money is not always the answer.

Consider these things before a move

  • Make a list of what you love about dentistry, not what you love about your office, but the profession of dentistry. What makes you happy?
  • Now make a list of what you dislike about dentistry, and again, this is not about your practice. Think of the things that you dread each day.
  • Now make a list of what you do not like about the Is it a person, such as the office manager or even the dentist, that you have issues with? If you figure out that it’s the practice you’re struggling with, find a new dental home!

How does your employer rank?

Does your employer appreciate you? Right now, with the shortage of staffing in dentistry, dental assistants have the opportunity to earn better wages and receive the appreciation they deserve. If you don’t feel appreciated and respected, then you’re in the wrong practice! Dust off your resumé and get out there and start looking for a new dental home.

What benefits do you have? It’s not always about that paycheck. Sometimes it’s about what benefits your employer offers, such as paid days off, a uniform allowance, health insurance, free dentistry for you and your family, and a retirement package.

How close is the office to your home? Do the hours work well for you and your family? Do you know what your state allows when it comes to expanded functions dental assisting? If not, visit danb.org and click on the “search by state” tab on the left side. Find your state and see what is allowable for you to advance your career. Maybe with some extra training you can create more value for yourself. Having more responsibility often leads to greater job satisfaction.

There are so many things to consider about the place where you spend more time than you do in your own home. You really should be happy at the place where you work! You deserve to be respected and you deserve to earn a good wage. If it’s dentistry you love, but the practice is causing you stress, then take the necessary steps to find another employer. Good employers are out there! Practices are offering good pay with benefits and doing what they can to retain their valuable team members. So, find one of those places and go for it! Good luck!

Tija Hunter, CDA, EFDA, CDIA, CDSO, CDSH, 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 editor of Dental Assisting Digest and contributes to Dental Economics magazine. Hunter is the director of the Dental Careers Institute, a dental assisting and dental continuing education program. She is an international speaker and a certified trainer in nitrous oxide in several states. She can be reached at [email protected].

This article first appeared in the Dental Assisting Digest newsletter. To subscribe, visit dentistryiq.com/subscribe.