How to achieve success as a dental assistant

Dental assistants take pride in their work and want to achieve success in their career. How can they do that? Having empathy is at the top of this list, followed by many other desirable traits, including attention to detail and a strong stomach.

Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2017 04 Positive Attitude 1

Dental assistants take pride in their work and want to achieve success in their career. How can they do that? Having empathy is at the top of this list, followed by many other desirable traits, including attention to detail and a strong stomach.

This article originally appeared in Dental Assisting & Office Manager Digest. Subscribe to the monthly e-newsletter here.

We all want to be the best, right? Setting yourself apart from the competition can be very difficult. In order to bag a few dream dental jobs, you have to think outside the box, and think outside the box again! So what are the qualities of a successful dental assistant? How can you improve your performance and maximize your potential? Here are some steps you can take.

What are the qualities of a successful dental assistant?
Not everyone can be a dental assistant. The majority of dental professionals believe that it takes a special kind of person to be a dental assistant, and I agree! It is a multi-disciplinary job that requires a combination of skill and personal qualities. Dental assistants need to educate patients on the importance of maintaining excellent dental hygiene, as well as complete dental x-rays and interpret the results of these x-rays. Not only that, dental assistants have to use various instruments and machines today that they didn’t used to use.

Here are a few of the qualities of a successful dental assistant from our perspective:

1) Respect and empathy
Going to the dentist is scary for some people. This is why a good dental assistant must take care of each and every patient, look after them, and make them feel at ease during their appointment. A patient who is particularly nervous about dental procedures will greatly appreciate the assistant relaxing them and explaining what is going to happen.

Many dentists think that this is one of the most important characteristics of their dental assistants. Failure to display empathy could make it very difficult for an assistant to last in a dental practice!

2) Excellent attention to detail
It is vitally important that each patient who visits the practice is treated with the same high-quality care. We know that toward the end of the workday, standards might tend to slip. So, remaining focused is essential because a patient’s oral health is at stake.

Say for example that you forgot to clean an important piece of dental equipment. Sure, this is an easy mistake to make. But the ramifications of such a mistake could break the law. Therefore, attention to detail is very important.

3) A strong stomach
This may seem like a strange quality. But sometimes working on a patient’s mouth can leave even the most hardened dentist a little queasy. Some procedures lead to bleeding, and it will be the assistant’s job to stop it. If you get grossed out at the sight of blood, learn to deal with it because blood is a daily occurrence. If you don’t think you can get used to it, you will with time. Otherwise you might have to conduct a new job search or relocate to the front of the office.

4) Ability to listen
Being a good listener is one of the best qualities of a successful dental assistant. Sure, this is an important quality of nearly all health-related jobs, but it is especially important to being a good dental assistant. You not only have to be able to listen to the patient, you also need to listen to instructions from the dentist. If you don’t listen, you may detrimentally impact on a patient’s safety.

5) Well-rounded interpersonal skills
What are interpersonal skills? They are defined as the ability to successfully interact with others. This is one of the best qualities of a successful dental assistant. You might be competent when it comes to carrying out a dental procedure and doing the administrative work, but if you don’t have the personal skills to match, you will be at a disadvantage. Having a caring personality allows you to transfer this on to your patients, which makes their appointments a better experience for them. Nailing this will certainly help you along the way to becoming a truly fantastic dental assistant.

6) Continuing education
We all know that the last thing you want to do at the end of a long hard day is study. But, if you increase your knowledge and put what you’ve learned into practice, you could be well on the way to being at the top of your profession. The more techniques and procedures you learn, the more useful you will be to the practice. As your skills grow, you’ll become more employable and perhaps land a higher wage because of your new skills. Dental assisting requirements, including continuing education, vary from state to state. You can look up the requirements for your state by visiting the Dental Assisting National Board Inc.’s Search by State page. For more information about your state’s requirements, please contact your state dental board.

7) Be professional
This is another important characteristic. You need to arrive on time, look smart, and have a great attitude when you come into work.

As you can see, being a dental assistant requires a wide range of qualities. Nobody is going to be exceptional in all areas. But if you can make small changes to the way you work, learn, and grow in experience, you will be well on the way to maximizing your potential to be a truly excellent dental assistant. Having all of these traits will increase your ability to expand your career horizon and be recruited to your dream job by another office or dental recruiting firm!

If you think there are any characteristics or qualities that I missed here, please let me know.


For the most current dental assistant headlines, click here.



For the most current dental headlines, click here.


Peter Cargill is an entrepreneurial executive leader and founder of DentReps, The Dental Jobs Site, and DR Recruiting, Dentistry’s Recruiting Solution. Peter has spent the past decade primarily in the dental industry, both domestically and internationally. He has a MBA from Boston College and Loyola University Chicago and a BA in Business from Stonehill College, as a well as an Executive Certificate from the University of Notre Dame's Mendoza School of Business. Peter is also a volunteer at Boston Children’s Hospital and is certified to work with children of foster care and adoption.Contact info@DentReps.com or call (781) 987-1365.

More in Career Enhancements