Exploring choices in the dental assisting profession: Clinical options (Part 1 of 7)

May 21, 2019
This series from 28-year dental assisting veteran Natalie Kaweckyj will help guide dental assistants on the many choices available to them within the dental assisting profession.

There comes a time in everyone’s career when it’s time for a change. Dental assisting offers so many options and so many wonderful opportunities for that change.

Let’s face it, dental assisting is a mentally, emotionally, and physically taxing career for over 330,000 men and women in the US. Yet there is a shortage, not only in the US, but in Canada and worldwide. Granted, dental assisting is not for everyone, especially those who are faint of heart. It’s hard work!

Having been in the dental assisting profession for almost 28 years, I’ve had my ups and downs. We all have, and if you have not, are you sure you’re a dental assistant? So many DAs become disillusioned early on and leave the profession without truly exploring other options. For the next four articles, I’m going to investigate some career options within the dental assisting profession. You may think this doesn’t pertain to you at this point in your career but keep an open mind and you may be surprised! It’s natural to want a clear direction and sense of control in your career. The unknown can be overwhelming, especially when it comes to your professional future.

 For many of you, fear of the unknown may prevent you from taking risks that could elevate your success. Don’t think you can become an EFDA? Think again. Remaining in your comfort zone doesn’t allow for professional growth and keeps you playing safe. A career success path rarely resembles a straight line with nicely numbered and ordered steps. Sharpening your ability to succeed within uncertain circumstances is imperative. Learning to not only navigate uncharted waters but also capitalize on the less clear-cut tasks helps you grow strong and able to adapt to whatever life throws in your direction. A tolerance for uncertainty can give you confidence in your decision-making abilities and render you more resistant to criticism.

 For those who love direct patient care, there are several different specialties that need dental assistants. Most offices cannot survive without us! Some of us love pediatrics, while others enjoy interacting with geriatric patients and the insightfulness they love to share. Public health dentistry is a fast-growing area that needs more dental assistants. Some dental practices focus on TMD/TMJ dysfunction, and others on sleep dentistry and sleep disorders. For those of you who enjoy working independently, perhaps orthodontics is your calling. If you enjoy elevating and removing teeth and tissues, oral surgery may be for you.

Most dental assistants are great working with their hands, and some thrive in the dental laboratory fabricating dental appliances. In some states, dental assistants are allowed to fabricate crowns using CAD/CAM technology, which is another great skill to master. If you enjoy technology and imaging, dental radiology is a growing area for dental assistants, especially if you become proficient with Cone Beam Computerized Tomography (CBCT).

 If your state has options for increasing your collection of expanded duties, challenge yourself and learn something new. Some states allow allied dental team members to place and finish various restorations. I had the opportunity half a career lifetime ago to attend a restorative functions course and I was glad I challenged myself. Did my employer pay for me or use my newly-acquired skills? No, and I only lasted seven more months in that practice after I completed the training. I didn’t know what my future held, but I was open to it.

 If you want to move away from direct chairside care, treatment coordinating may be ideal for you, especially if you enjoy explaining things. Let’s face it, many patients feel more comfortable asking the dental assistant questions once the dental provider leaves the room. What better position to have than sharing your knowledge and making sure patients feel comfortable about their treatment options?

 Dental assisting varies so much throughout the US. We are a fractured profession, and no two states are alike in terms of regulations and requirements. Many of us do not stay in one state our entire careers, and assisting is a great career that can be used just about anywhere. If you are in a state that offers credentials to dental assistants and you do not have your credentials, why not take the chance on yourself and the future of your career? Becoming a Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) certificant through the Dental Assisting National Board Inc. (DANB) is a challenge that many dental assistants have taken, whether or not it is required in their state.

And guess what? Many states do recognize the DANB CDA certification, and this could give you the added career security that many crave, especially if your life involves relocation. If you’re already a CDA certificant, DANB offers additional exams that will challenge you professionally. Surveys have found that CDA certificants stay with their employers longer and are overall happier in their careers. If you need someone for guidance or coaching, please feel free to reach out to me. I love, love, love to help out fellow dental assistants! Email me at [email protected].

 These are just a few options available to dental assistants who want to stay in the dental assisting profession clinically. In my future articles I will explore more career options in dental assisting. Thank you each and every one of you for what you do!

Natalie Kaweckyj, BA, LDA, CDA, RF, CDPMA, COA, COMSA, CPFDA, CRFDA, MADAAis a senior moderator of the Dental Peeps Network.