Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2017 08 Happiness 1

How to be happy in your dental assisting career

Aug. 1, 2017
Happiness is something you can choose to be or not, and this goes for your career in dental assisting. If you aren't happy where you are, do something about it. It will take a bit of effort, but the payoff is tremendous.

Happiness is something you can choose to be or not, and this goes for your career in dental assisting. If you aren't happy where you are, do something about it. It will take a bit of effort, but the payoff is tremendous.

I don’t usually expect to hear a thought-provoking quote on sports talk radio, but Saturday night was certainly different. While I was driving back from the Colorado Rockies game in Denver, the sports talk radio announcers were talking about Kyrie Irving demanding a trade from the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Trust me, you don’t have to know much about sports here to know what’s going on. Irving, a star basketball player, believes he’s no longer happy in Cleveland, despite the team reaching the NBA finals the last two seasons and winning the city’s first championship in any sport in 52 years in 2016.

The sports talk show host asked the caller what he thought was making Irving so unhappy, and why Irving would want to leave such a good situation. After a few statements, the guest said, “You know, the difference between happiness and unhappiness is often between your ears.”

That thought hit me like a ton of bricks. How often do we tell ourselves a situtation is bad, or we create a situation in our minds that could not only ruin the moment, but perhaps the entire day or week as well? I’ve heard so many dental assistants tell me how unhappy they are at their practice. Each has his or her reasons, and each is convinced that there is no going back. Whatever’s happening has formed an irreconcilable difference … and that’s that!

Sure, there are moments when I can see this happening, such as a dentist throwing instruments or demeaning you in front of a patient. Or perhaps a practice where unethical things or blatant infection control breaches are occurring. These are so-called “unforgiveable sins” in my mind. But if it’s just a matter of not getting along with someone or feeling like you’re stuck in a rut, well, that may signal it’s time for a mental change.

During my talks with assistants around the country, the subject of happiness comes up often. Trust me, I’m a firm believer that life is too short to be miserable. If you’re waking up every morning and dreading your day in the practice, something needs to change. You either have to find a new place of employment or change the environment within your current work location.

Neither option is easy, but I encourage you to do everything you can to change what’s bothering you in your position before you make a change. Maybe it’s a personality conflict you have with someone in the practice. It could be the dentist, hygienist, another assistant, or someone at the front desk. Whoever it is, the situation needs to be resolved so that your personal happiness can not only return but you can also enjoy your career more.

So how do you do this? If it’s a conflict, start by framing the conversation as a business discussion. You see, I believe every dental practice isn’t just a dental practice; it’s also a small business, just as much as the florist or restaurant down the street is a small business.

When you put things in a business discussion framework, it removes a lot of the personal feelings. It’s not about, “I’m right and you’re wrong.” It’s about what’s best for business. After all, when the business succeeds, everyone within the business should succeed as well.

Here is an easy way to start the conversation. Ask whoever is at the other end of the conflict if you can have a business discussion with him or her. If he or she accepts, great. If not, you definitely have some bigger issues that need to be brought up with the office manager or dentist, or both.

However, if the person accepts your offer for a business discussion, put the matter out on the table and frame it with, “I’m worried any tension between us is going to be noticed by our patients. They are the customers of our business and I don’t want any of them walking out of our business wishing they hadn’t walked through our doors. Can we talk about it?”

This will start the conversation on completely neutral footing. From there, keep feelings and emotions out of it. Everything should be based on what is best for the business and your customers. When a discussion turns emotional, no one wins because it quickly spirals out of control.

It’s true. The difference between happiness and unhappiness is often between our ears. Don’t let your mental state derail your career and working relationships. Be proactive and resolve problems as soon as they arise. You’ll find yourself waking up with a whole new perspective on the day and your dental career.

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An advocate of today’s dental assistant, Kevin Henryspeaks to dental audiences across the nation on topics that empower dental assistants, helping them recognize the leadership role they hold in the dental practice. He is the cofounder of, a community designed to enlighten, empower, and educate dental assistants.