The most successful dental assistants have plotted the trajectories of their careers carefully. From improving their clinical skills to networking with industry professionals, the best dental assistants have been strategic in creating rewarding, fulfilling careers. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t hit a few rough patches along the way. Here, experienced dental assistants share lessons they’ve learned and advice they would give to their younger selves.


Master Everything

Top dental assistants make themselves indispensable by wearing many hats. In addition to their chairside duties, they master other aspects of the dental practice. That could include lab work, post-treatment planning with patients and filing insurance claims. Developing those versatile skills helps keep the office efficient and productive.

“Be flexible. Learn every area of the daily operation of the dental office. You never know when you have to fill in and help out. It’s a team effort. So be proactive at all times.” — Renee T.


Never Stop Learning

Dentistry is constantly evolving. So, outstanding dental assistants are committed to lifelong learning. They regularly take continuing education classes and earn DANB certifications to ensure their careers flourish.

“With holding DANB CDA certification and a state RDA credential, I have risen above others in my field. I have earned the respect of my colleagues for the knowledge I have acquired over these years.” — Jacalyn S., CDA


Realize What You’re Worth

For long, successful careers, seasoned dental assistants recommend working for dentists who recognize the integral role assistants play in the practice. The best employers offer competitive wages and benefits. In addition, they teach their dental assistants and help them gain new skills. Excellent employers also invest in their assistants’ professional development.

“Make sure you are employed by a good and honest dentist who treats you like a human and respects your position. Make sure the dentist appreciates the value of a dental assistant and works with you, not above you.” — Jennifer B., CDA


Develop a Support Network

No one understands dental assistants better than other dental assistants. That’s why many join professional membership organizations like the American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA). These organizations allow dental assistants to connect with their peers. That network can provide the support dental assistants need to enhance their careers and the profession.

“I’ve been a life member of ADAA since ’74, but I wasn’t really active until later. So I would tell my younger self to get active earlier in ADAA. You meet dental assistants from all over. You have mentors and people you can talk to about the profession.” — Cathy R., CDA-Emeritus, COA-Emeritus, CDPMA-Emeritus, CPDFA-Emeritus


Know You Make a Difference

Dental assistants are passionate about helping people. But sometimes it’s easy for them to lose sight of that when they are immersed in the daily activities of a busy dental office. At the end of the day, dental assistants are crucial to helping patients achieve healthy smiles and improve their oral healthcare.

“Go into it knowing you will make a difference in people’s lives. You make people smile. I have been a dental assistant for 43 years and have loved every aspect.” — Linda L.


What lessons have you learned in your career? What career advice would you give to your younger self and other dental assistants climbing the career ladder?