Betty Finkbeiner, CDA-Emeritus, M.S., B.S., is renowned for her innovative contributions to dental assisting education. The 77-year-old retired dental assisting instructor has devoted more than 50 years to educating dental assistants while advancing the profession along the way. We caught up with Betty to find out how her passion for education has been the driving force behind her illustrious career.


The Importance of Mentors

Betty ignited her interest in dental assisting education in 1958. That’s when she began working as a chairside assistant for Joseph Ellis, D.D.S., in Grand Rapids Michigan. Dr. Ellis trained Betty on the job and served as her mentor. He inspired her to pursue professional development. Betty regularly read dental textbooks and took continuing education courses. She then earned DANB Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) certification in 1960 (at the time, a committee of the American Dental Assistants Association awarded the CDA certification).

“Dr. Ellis really encouraged me to study and become very active in dental assisting,” she says.


Inside and Outside the Classroom

When Dr. Ellis passed away in 1968, Betty went on to pursue a career in dental assisting education. She joined Washtenaw Community College’s dental assisting program as its chairperson. The most rewarding part of the job for her was working with the students, many of whom were single mothers. Betty liked teaching them about the science of dental assisting and helping them develop their clinical skills. But she also felt it was her duty to assist the students with any personal issues they were facing that could interfere with their studies. For example, she helped them figure out how to pay for car repairs and childcare.

“I was so glad that we could help students who were returning to school after having a family to be able to find a valuable career,” she says.


Lasting Legacy

Betty’s impact on dental assisting extends beyond her students. While she was working at Washtenaw, Betty developed a successful online program that prepares on-the-job-trained dental assistants to become Registered Dental Assistants in Michigan. In addition, she wrote several articles for journals and textbooks on various aspects of dental assisting. She was also involved in several dental organizations, including the Commission on Dental Accreditation. Today Betty is retired, but she continues to write books and articles, create courses and educate dental practices about ergonomics.

“I never realized I would still be doing dental assisting in 50 years,” she says. “But that’s the glory of the profession — it’s dynamic and fascinating.”


Who has inspired you in dental assisting? Tell us about your mentors and colleagues who bring out the best in you in the comments below.