It’s admittedly been a challenging past year for dental assistants, as it’s been for professionals across many industries. During the COVID-19 pandemic, dental assistants reported taking on more duties in the dental office, often related to cleaning and disinfection, as well as screening patients.

Today, many dental practices and their dental assistants are busier than ever, with high patient volumes and packed schedules. There are also reports that many dental practices are facing staffing shortages and are having trouble hiring dental assistants and dental hygienists for open positions.

These new challenges add to the day-to-day scenarios in the dental office: fast-paced workdays and schedules, plus those messy and frustrating moments that can happen in a day in the life of a dental assistant.

With everything going on, many dental assistants are busier and working harder than ever. Given this, we were eager to review the latest survey results from the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) regarding dental assistants’ job satisfaction.

Every two years, as part of DANB’s Dental Assistants Salary and Satisfaction Survey, DANB surveys dental assistants to learn more about their workplaces, their earnings and benefits, and their professional satisfaction levels. The results of the 2020-2021 survey are now published, and there were several surprises. Here are just a few!


1. Despite being busier, dental assistants report high job satisfaction.

In previous DANB surveys, dental assistants have reported high job satisfaction, and this remains true. Both DANB certified and non-certified assistants reported being satisfied with their jobs (78% and 72%, respectively).

Additionally, dental assistants felt strongly that dental assisting was a career, not just a job. This sentiment was expressed by 84% of Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) certificants and 82% of non-certified assistants.

In particular, DANB CDA certificants may be especially satisfied in their jobs because earning and maintaining certification is linked to personal and professional benefits, such as pride, increased knowledge, standing out when applying for jobs, higher pay and greater confidence. A majority (60%) of dental assistants who hold DANB CDA certification said earning certification was a personal goal.

This all has been true for Jill, CDA, who has found that holding DANB certification for more than 20 years helped her succeed in her career. “The best thing about being a dental assistant is the amazing growth opportunities I’ve had in the 30 years since my career began,” Jill shares. “I started out working in the U.S. Navy as a dental technician. Now, as a practice manager, I manage a team of 70 people in a 24-chair practice — which is challenging and rewarding at the same time. But I love my job and wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Plus, CDA certificants were more likely than non-certified assistants to receive professional benefits, such as paid vacation, paid holidays, retirement plans, health insurance, paid sick leave and bonuses.

Elsa, CDA, is grateful for all the benefits DANB certification has brought her: “I’m always eager to celebrate my career! It’s been very rewarding, with many moments of satisfaction and an overall feeling of professional accomplishment.”

In fact, many DANB certificants such as Elsa are committed to holding on to their certification and recommend it to others. Consider that 99% of CDA certificants said they plan to renew their certification, and 91% would encourage others to earn certification.

Susan, CDA, worked in dental assisting for nearly 40 years and values maintaining DANB certification. “I believe all assistants should be certified and should maintain current status as such,” she says.


2. Although there are challenges, dental assisting is a rewarding career.

Many dental assistants agree they have an extremely rewarding and meaningful career. In fact, surveyed dental assistants reported that the most rewarding aspects of their jobs were making a difference in patients’ lives, helping patients improve their oral health, and patient relationships and gratitude.

Doreen, CDA, can relate: “What I love most about being a dental assistant is all the smiles,” she says. “Our patients come in, and generally, most are happy to be there. By the time they leave, they are smiling and grateful for the services we provide.”

Beyond this, dental assistants often consider themselves to be a “people” person and enjoy working collaboratively with dental colleagues as well. Perhaps Pamela, CDA, says it best: “The best thing for me about being a dental assistant is working together with a team and helping restore our patients to proper function with their dental health. It is very rewarding to be a part of a happy patient’s experience, as well as help provide a beautiful smile to go along with the experience.”

 

3. Even though workdays can be intense, dental assistants report feeling valued.

Dental assisting has always been a busy field, with dental team members and patients relying on dental assistants for a variety of duties. Of course, most dental assistants have been proud to rise to the challenge.

Shainna, CDA, explains: “Dental assistants are the foundation to a solid dental practice. We are the ‘busy little bees’ who make sure everything is running smoothly in a dental practice. We are the first to come into the office in the morning and the last to leave at the end of the workday.”

This could be why dental assistants report feeling valued by their employers — 72% of CDA certificants felt this way, as did 73% of non-certified assistants.

Nancy, CDA, definitely feels like her contributions as a dental assistant are appreciated — because her employer often communicates just that. “My dentist tells me often that she can’t ‘do her thing’ unless I’m ‘doing my thing,’” Nancy says. ‘She will cancel patients if I can’t be there for the appointments.”

 

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