After I graduated in India with a Bachelor in Dental Surgery (BDS) degree, I got the opportunity to come to the United States. As I prepared my application for international dentist programs at U.S. dental schools, I shadowed and volunteered at dental offices and community dental clinics. Soon, I started working part-time as a dental assistant and eventually received my Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) certification and Registered Dental Assistant (RDA) license in California and started to work full-time.
It was not until I became a dental assistant that I saw their struggles and realized how misunderstood the field is. Because of this, I am going to dispel a few myths about being a dental assistant.
Myth: Dental assistants have easy work to do. Dental assistants work hard. Assistants often open the office, take impressions and pour models, take radiographs, assist chairside, sterilize instruments, clean and set up, make provisional crowns, manage and present treatment to patients, stock and order supplies, help in the front office and close at the end of the day. It’s not easy. Patient management is especially important. Since they come into contact with a dental assistant before the dentist sees them, patients might communicate more freely with the dental assistant.
Myth: It’s easy to become a dental assistant. Rules vary state to state. From my experience in California, I had to pass the RDA written exam, a law and ethics written exam and the RDA practical exam (suspended since April 2017), which are regulated by the Dental Board of California. You can apply for the exams after a minimum amount of schooling (usually nine months) or dental assisting experience of 15 months, in addition to certifications in coronal polishing, law and ethics, the California Dental Practice Act, infection control and X-ray. Likewise, to earn the CDA certification by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB), you have to be eligible to sit for the written exams. The exams consist of three parts: infection control (ICE), general chairside assisting (GC) and radiation health and safety (RHS).
Myth: Dental assistants don’t make much money. Dental assisting is a great career option. When I worked in California, an RDA could make anywhere between $20 to $40 an hour, depending on their experience and skill level. Ample job opportunities are available for dental assistants. They can work full-time or part-time. Typically, full-time employees can get a 401(k) plan, medical and dental insurance, paid holidays, sick leave and bonuses.
A respectful environment and feelings of gratitude towards your dental assistant can boost his or her confidence so they can help you deliver the best care to patients. This, in turn, helps the practice in the long run.
I learned so many things as a dental assistant, and I’m grateful for everything my experiences have taught me. Dental assistants are key to a successful dental practice, and as dentists, we need to give them the respect and appreciation they deserve. Taking care of your assistants equates to taking care of your office and making sure it runs smoother.
~ Shruti Singh, predental member