A personal look back and an optimistic look ahead at dental assistant's wages and the profession

Nov. 21, 2011
Tija Hunter, CDA, EFDA, looks back over her 30-year career and notes changes between then and now. She offers a positive look ahead at the dental assisting profession.

By Tija Hunter, CDA, EFDA

I have to laugh. When I began my career as a dental assistant early in the spring of 1981, my wage was $3.50 an hour. That year, the minimum wage went from $2.30 to $3.35, so I thought I was makin’ it big. Within six months, I was up to $4 an hour, and in a year, $4.50. And if I remember correctly, the cost of a crown was about $225 where I worked. Boy, have times changed!

It’s hard to believe that was 30 years ago, and to think I haven’t aged a bit! So much has happened in our profession as a whole. Assistants are now able to perform many tasks that a few short years ago we could not. Many states have adopted expanded functions for assistants, and many more states are reviewing their bylaws to allow assistants to do more. With the growing technology in the dental profession, the opportunity for assistants to grow and advance their careers is amazing!

I’m a huge believer in continuing education. With a dental office on every corner, each practice must have the tools and equipment necessary to offer their patients a wide variety of services. Enter the dental assistant. What better opportunity than to learn new procedures and new technology? Your dentist will depend on you to care for and maintain the equipment and know the procedures so you can help educate your patients.

Computer Aided Design, such as the CEREC (Chairside Economical Restoration of Esthetic Ceramics, or CEramic REConstruction) or E4D, has again given assistants the opportunity to spread their wings and dive into learning something that was once only open to lab techs. CEREC allows a dental practitioner to produce an indirect ceramic dental restoration using computer assisted technologies. The doctors I know who use these machines depend totally on their assistant to deliver a quality product. (Before a dentist delegates use of CEREC or E4D to dental assistants or before dental assistants agree to be trained on these products, they should check with their state's dental board to ensure that these duties can be legally delegated.)

With all this new technology, cool new equipment, and more services, assistants are being asked to do more and more. Have our wages gone up with the heavier workload? In every profession you have good bosses and bad bosses (sigh), and it’s not all about the hourly wage — it’s also about benefits. Many bosses feel that wages aren’t granted just because someone has shown up to work for the year, but because they have earned the wages.

Have you gone above and beyond what your boss expected and shown you are an asset to the practice?

Make yourself valuable by learning and growing. Take in all the education you can. This is a great career and wonderful profession. With dentists depending on us more, I believe our average wage will increase to reflect the value we bring to the practice and the profession. Make your employer appreciate you, and if he/she doesn’t, someone else will. Becoming educated isn’t just about growing your practice, it’s about YOUR career, YOUR quality of life, and taking care of your most valuable asset ... YOU!

Author bio
Tija Hunter, CDA, EFDA, is a 1981 graduate of the Missouri School for Doctors’ Assistants and has 30 years’ chairside experience. She is currently the office manager/assistant to Eric Hurtte, DMD. She is a member of the ADAA and the founder of the Dental Assistants Study Club of St. Louis. She is an independent consultant specializing in assistant training, team building, and office organization. She can be reached at [email protected] or find her on Facebook.