4 ways dental assistants can increase their value in the practice

For dental assistants, respect is one of the battles they fight on a daily basis. I’ve heard many dental assistants tell me that they always feel like “the lowest rung on the ladder in the practice” and “the most underappreciated member of the team.” Honestly, I can’t argue with them when I hear that … but I also am quick to ask them what they have done in their practices to earn that much-desired respect?

What do dental assistants around the country make?Click here to see the official annual salary numbers.

I am a firm believer that respect isn’t something that is handed to you. It’s definitely something that is earned through hard work. So how can you earn respect in the practice and add value to what you do on a daily basis as a dental assistant? Here are four ideas…

1. Know what you do every day. Take a moment sometime before the end of the week to think about everything you do in the practice … and I mean everything. What do you do to help the practice that everyone else might take for granted or overlook? There is no one (and I mean, no one) who knows all of the things that you do in the practice to help make it successful. When I lecture to dental assistants around the country, I’m surprised to find out how many of them actually don’t think about all of the amazing things they do every day to make the practice churn.

Make a list of everything you do in the practice and keep that with you when the time is right to talk about a salary increase. You’ll be surprised at what you do every day … and so will anyone else. The key is not to use it as a “brag tool.” The list is to be used as a way to show what you do to help the practice … and build the foundation for you to do even greater things.

2. Know what you can and can’t do in your state. Every state has different things that dental assistants can and can’t do. These aren’t just suggestions … they are laws. If you move from one state to another, it’s one of the most frustrating things about being a dental assistant because you have to discover what you are legally allowed to do.

Do your research by going to DANB.org and seeing what assistants can do. Once you know, think about what happens in your practice on a daily basis. Are you doing everything in the practice that you are legally allowed to do? If not, why? Do you need the necessary training (see the next point) or the doctor’s permission/blessing to have you become a more integrated part of the practice? Whatever it is, have the knowledge and talk to the dentist about how you’d like to do more in the practice. It’ll not only increase your value, but also your skill set.

Ask a dental assistant: Can cold sterile (Glutaraldahyde) still be used in a dental practice?

As a note, another benefit of knowing what you can do in your state is also discovering what you can’t legally do. If you’re doing something in the practice that isn’t allowed by state law, now is the time to talk to the dentist about it. You don’t want to be in a position where a lawsuit might come against the practice and you were doing illegal dentistry.

3. Take continuing education. When I think of continuing education and dental assistants, I think of two of our editorial board members – Tija Hunter and Jena Payne. They have more acronyms after their names than I thought were possible because they have pursued their education and expanded their horizons. I am constantly amazed by the hours and hard work they have put into their careers.

Tija Hunter writes about dental assistant regulation and education

What is it in the dental practice that excites you? Implants? Endo? CAD/CAM? Whatever it is, find courses through your local sales rep that will help you gain more knowledge and become more skilled. When your skills and knowledge improve, so does your value to the patient and the practice. You’ll be able to do more, talk more confidently, and make a bigger difference … and hopefully make more money.

4. Know the latest. Don’t be afraid to pick up a dental publication (like Dental Products Report) and learn about the newest dental products being introduced. Make a point to talk to the sales rep and pick his or her brain about the latest and greatest products and techniques. Get together with dental assistants in your area to talk about what is working for them and their practices. You can take a lot of ideas from other places and see how they can be implemented in your practice. Bring those ideas back to your practice with you, talk about them with the dentist and at your morning huddle, then watch the reactions.

Additional reading: 5 easy steps to resolving conflict in the dental practice