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Dental Assistants: Do You Feel Appreciated At Work?

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It's not what you know. It's who you know.

Whether or not you feel appreciated at work comes down to that old adage. Usually it means you've been promoted to a dream gig by a big shot, someone of influence or prestige, who had the power to put you where you wanted to go. Often that person is a good friend, longtime colleague, or lover. But, as a dental assistant, it's something else entirely.

As a dental assistant, who you know can truly make or break your happiness at work. And the "who" are the dentists and dental hygienists you work with.

First, the bad news: Dental assistants may be some of the most unhappy bunch on the planet.

Feeling appreciated - or not - comes down to a few key problem areas for dental assistants:

  1. Horrible bosses
  2. Low pay/irregular hours
  3. Extracurricular job duties, e.g. scrubbing toilets

The first one in this list is the most important. And it's thing you have most control over.

In fact, if you get number one right - finding a boss who will treat you with courtesy and respect - No. 2 and No. 3 on the list will probably be less of a problem. In other words, get No. 1 right, and the rest is happily ever after.

How horrible can horrible get?

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Here are some representative complaints (from current and former DAs writing on job site Indeed.com):

  • "Most abusive job I've ever had - and I've worked in fast food and big box retail jobs."
  • "Condescending bosses who speak to you like you're an idiot just because you can't read their minds."
  • "They had me washing windows and scrubbing toilets because they wanted to cut costs on cleaning services."
  • "25 years and I've got nothing but back and neck issues to show for it."
  • "Nothing's ever good enough."

Here's how to feel appreciated at work:

Dental assisting isn't necessarily better or worse than other jobs. Every job has its ups and downs, pros and cons. There's no such thing as perfection, but the best thing you could do is this:

  • Find a dental practice where most of the staff has been around for longer than a handful of years!

This, perhaps more than any other factor, will determine how happy you'll be as a dental assistant. You are far more likely to feel appreciated in this type of work setting - one where employee turnover is low because of mutual respect among dentists, dental hygienists, and dental assistants.

According to one DA on Indeed.com:

"The dentist [...] was respectful, generous, and compassionate, plus he compensated us all well. His staff hasn't changed in over 25 years for those exact reasons."

The good news: Most people have the power to improve their situation, even if it looks bleak.

Just starting out as a dental assistant?

The best time to find a respectful, generous, and compassionate dental practice is now. No one says you have to wait until you're done training. Start now, before your classmates start their job searches. Great dental practices do exist - make finding one your highest priority.

Feel stuck in a difficult workplace?

Mutual respect isn't the only hallmark of a great dental practice. All dental professionals need to be wary of the job's physical toll. A great dentist/business owner, for example, will truly care about the health of the hygienists and assistants who work for her, and will provide benefits like adequate disability insurance coverage. If you don't work in such a practice, it might be time to move on.

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