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Ask an assistant: Is it too late to enter the dental assisting profession?

Nov. 17, 2021
Having thought about dental assisting before, this mom of four is wondering if it's still a good career move. What do other dental assistants like about the profession?

QUESTION: I’m a 48-year-old mother of four, and almost an empty nester. I finished high school in 1992 and I’ve just never had the time, money, etc., to go to college or vocational school. Instead, I joined the workforce and have been in retail for the last 16 years. I’ve thought of dental assisting before and I’m circling back to it. Do you think I’m too old to go to school and become certified? I want to be able to start a rewarding career. Should I start with certification first and then determine if I want to become a hygienist? It’s scary going back to school at my age, but I want to be trained and certified for a career where I help people, and I want to love what I do. Do you love dental assisting, and what do you love best? Also, is there a lot of math in dental assisting?

ANSWER FROM TIJA HUNTER, CDA, EFDA, editor of Dental Assisting Digest:
I absolutely love my dental assisting career and where it has taken me!  

First of all, you're never too old to go into dental assisting. I began my career at 19 years old, but I didn't become certified until I was 49! I realize now how much I missed out on during that time and I'm sorry I didn't become certified sooner.

What I love most about dental assisting is the people; being able to help people is the greatest joy of the profession. We meet patients who say they never smile because they’re so embarrassed about their teeth, and then we give them so much joy through our treatment and they can't stop smiling. That’s what it's all about! Then there are those patients who are completely afraid of the dentist, and we can help them through a difficult appointment. Then they see that it's not so scary after all because we were able to help them, and that makes our day. Things like that happen every single day! 

Dental assistants don't have to tackle math, thank goodness. I joke around with our team and tell them I can only count to 32 (the number of teeth we have) because I hate math! 

You've got a great foundation. I recommend getting a job in dental assisting and then start working on becoming certified. Don't be surprised after you put in a few months as an assistant that you no longer have a desire to go into hygiene. Assisting is a career! You may just find out you love it and never want to leave. Good luck, and you’ll be a true asset to the profession!


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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