In recent weeks, there have been calls for social distancing both professionally and socially from U.S. government and health officials, in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus. And some states have issued “stay-at-home” orders.

As a result, many dental assistants are finding themselves navigating new challenges in both their professional and personal lives.

Encountering Financial Uncertainty

Perhaps the No. 1 change many dental assistants are experiencing is their office closing temporarily, either completely or partially — especially following a recent recommendation from the American Dental Association that dental offices nationwide postpone elective procedures. This response has left many dental assistants temporarily unemployed or working limited hours, and ultimately facing financial uncertainty and challenges.

Some dental assistants were advised to use their limited sick or vacation days in order to receive wages during this time. “Our office is closed for at least two weeks. They’re saying to use some sick days,” shares Michele C. “I only get five, though. I don’t know if I should use them, or just take no pay for two weeks.”

Other dental assistants are turning to the U.S. Department of Labor for guidance and checking with their state to determine whether they are eligible to receive unemployment benefits. “I’ve never gone on unemployment in almost 40 years as an assistant. I signed up last night,” says Lois H., CDA.

Cheri S. also is temporarily out of work. “We’re closed, and I’m trying to file unemployment,” she shares. “This is frustrating.”

For some, the process of applying for unemployment seems to be complicated. Kim C., a dental assistant of 20 years, can relate: “I went online to apply, but got a message to call the unemployment office. I called several times. Each time, I got a message that stated they are overwhelmed with calls, and to please go online or call back later. So I’m sitting in limbo here. Thank goodness I have saved over the years for emergencies, or this would be devastating.”


Coping with New Stress and Unknowns

In addition to financial stress, the coronavirus is bringing about many questions and feelings of anxiety for dental assistants as well. It’s not uncommon for everyone across the country, and in a variety of professions, to be considering not only their job security and finances during this time — but also how long stay-at-home recommendations and seeing bare shelves in stores might persist, as well as how to manage feelings brought about by this collective new reality.

Laura Ann M., CDA, is among those feeling stressed due to all the uncertainty. “It’s scary,” she says.

Cindy S. agrees, adding that these circumstances are unprecedented in her career. “I have been an assistant for 42 years and have never experienced anything like this, ever,” she shares. “Our office is working on an emergency basis only and for an unknown timeline. This is really happening.”

And almost everyone seems to be navigating the feelings that increased isolation and social distancing can bring. Most are coping by coming together to be a support system for one another from afar, connected by technology and social media.

Mirna S. has felt emotional as the events have unfolded, but she’s strengthened by the sense of community found in her both her personal and professional lives. “I’m sad to see all this we are all going through. But it brings me a little hope to see I’m not the only one affected by this. My thoughts and love to all the assistants out there.”

Cindy agrees: “I’m thankful for all the love and support everyone’s showing one another during this time.”

 

Adapting to New Routines

And of course, many dental assistants’ day-to-day routines, and that of their families, are changing as well. Those who are out of work temporarily and are parents may be feeling this most acutely — as many schools are temporarily closed during this time, too.

Some, whether they’re working or not, are finding they now have limited or nonexistent childcare. For example, Jessica A.’s dental office is open, but she doesn’t feel like she can work without her typical childcare plans to rely on. “I am staying home with my children due to our childcare facility being closed,” she says. “I feel guilty I can’t be there at work, but honestly, I have to protect myself and family at home.”

Jessica B. is in a similar position: “My office is open, but I have zero childcare options. My doctor told me to bring my child to work with me. I don’t know how my colleagues feel, but I’m uncomfortable with it.”

“I’m bringing my child to work,” adds Jane K., a parent whose office also remains open. “We’re not too busy, and I feel safer for her to be there.”

Those dental office professionals who are parents, but whose offices have closed temporarily, are taking care at home to guide their children through a modified routine.

For some families, this includes establishing schedules for everyone, including designated learning time and limited screen time for at-home students. Other families are using this time to cook together, play fun and educational games, and more. All are striving to maintain normalcy during what can be a complicated time for both children and parents alike.

“We are all surviving,” shares Katee B., a mother of four children who works as a dental hygienist for an office that is closed in the short-term, except for emergency cases. “I am a mom from 7 to 9 a.m., a teacher until noon, then a mom again as I provide lunch and do chores, followed by a teacher again,” she says. “My day ends with more chores and dinner, a book, and some ‘me time’ to try to de-stress.

“My family is doing our part to help ‘flatten the curve,’” continues Katee B. “It’s surreal how much our world and routines have changed recently, but my kids, my husband and I are adjusting well, and most importantly, we are all healthy.”


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