Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2016 02 Positive 1

How to survive the first days of your dental assisting position (and the rest of your DA career)

Feb. 18, 2016
It's not easy to survive your first few weeks in a new job, including in a new dental assisting position. New coworkers, new atmosphere, new patients. It can all be a bit overwhelming. This new dental assistant has some great tips for surviving and thriving.
So! You survived dental assisting school and even the grueling job application process. Now you’re finally working for real money! Congratulations! But the problem I had, and I know I’m not alone here, was that I was terrified going to work my first day. It was like the first day of school all over again. I had never worked with these dentists or assistants. What if I didn't fit in, or what if I didn't know what I was doing? Yikes! I had to take slow deep breaths to calm myself.

4 tips that got me through, and still do

Here are four tips that were my saving grace. Even after the first few months, these tips help keep me motivated when I go to work every day.

My first tip is to be humble, and don't be afraid to ask questions. My approach to being a brand new dental assistant is to recognize that I know the basics. But I realize that all doctors and assistants have their own way of doing things, and they all use different products. I always ask why they use something, and I ask what it does. Asking questions helps me to remember the order of a procedure and the order in which the doctor wants certain items.

My second tip is to always read the directions on the product I’m using, or for clarification I Google the name of the product and how it's supposed to be used. The only way to become a subject matter expert is to do your own research. This will help you feel more confident in your skills. One example is that I was told by my doctor to apply fluoride varnish to a patient, so I did. Well, once I got home and did my research about the brand we use, I discovered that I was supposed to dry the teeth first because that helps the varnish adhere to the teeth. Reading directions and doing your own product research also helps your credibility with patients. They expect you to be informed.

My third tip is the most fun for me. I am a self-professed YouTube junkie! I love watching dental procedures, and this has been very helpful. Just watching something as simple as "how to prep a tooth for a crown" is amazing. Your doctor may use different products, but the steps are the same. Anytime I know ahead of time that we’re doing a procedure I’m not that familiar with, I YouTube it!

My fourth and final tip is probably the most important. Have a positive attitude, and always try and be part of the solution, not the problem. I’m so thankful and grateful to have such a rewarding career. There are a thousand things that happen everyday that I could complain about, but I choose to stay positive. If I hear people venting about a problem, I try to help. If I hear people venting about their coworkers, I listen but I do not comment. It does no good to add fuel to the fire. Be the positivity and the light in your environment. You might be surprised who notices!

I hope these tips help you in your practice, especially if you’re new. I live by them everyday, and they are definitely a tremendous help to me!

ALSO BY NILAJA WHITAKER: Why I chose dental assisting school, and I’m glad I did!
How to survive and thrive in dental assisting school

This article first appeared in Dental Assisting Digest. To receive enlightening and helpful articles for assistants and office managers in this monthly e-newsletter, visit

Nilaja Whitaker has a BA in English from Columbia College in Columbia, S.C. and is an RDA in Texas. She completed Dental Assisting school last May. She is married with three daughters, and is very passionate about educating patients on the importance of good oral hygiene.