Dental assistant school recognition

July 1, 2008
Lurking inside many dental practices is a frustration most dentists are totally unaware of.

For more on this topic, go to and search using the following key words: dental assistant school, dental auxiliaries, frustration, consultants, Linda Miles.

Lurking inside many dental practices is a frustration most dentists are totally unaware of. As consultants, we are privy to the frustration of dental auxiliaries and are often asked, in confidence, to help them deal with it. The comment many share with us is: "I borrowed money and spent two years of my life attending an accredited dental assisting school, yet my dentist does not value or respect the sacrifices I've made."

Further, on rotation many have been told, "I don't know why you're wasting your time and money going to a dental assisting school. It means nothing in the hiring process." Some on rotation have even been prompted to drop out of school to work full time in a practice that needed someone immediately, and were told that the "piece of paper" given upon graduation means nothing.

In some instances, dental assistants have shed tears when telling me that not only is their professional training not recognized by their dentist, the rest of the team share in making fun of or disregarding their training. To make matters worse, they are told, "Your salary will not reflect your schooling. It will be the same with or without formal schooling."

Many years ago, I remember an incident of a young dental assistant who was asked to train her coworker in a rural town that did not have a dental assisting school. She cried while saying her dentist was asking her to train a chairside assistant who came into the practice with zero experience. I explained to the young lady that her dentist did indeed need two very well trained assistants and, as great as she was, I knew the new assistant would one day be excellent if she were her teacher. She was not happy with that explanation, and went on to say that she had paid for dental assisting school with her own money and didn't feel that "giving it away" was fair.

I asked her (and many since) to ask herself three questions before deciding that training a coworker was unfair:

  1. Will it benefit the patients for assistant No. 2 to be very well trained in clinical and communication skills just like you?
  2. Will it benefit the practice as a business for your doctor to have two exceptional assistants?
  3. Will it benefit you personally to have skilled help every day?

If the answer to those three questions is yes, then it is actually a good thing to be a mentor and trainer for others on the team. I explained to her how terrible our world might be if every teacher felt that way, and I explained that, "as you teach, you also learn." I finally convinced that young lady and many since that sharing one's knowledge with others is the most rewarding part of any job or career. More than a year later when that particular dental assistant visited our area with her family, she took me to lunch with her mother, having told her about our conversation months earlier. She continued to thank me for years.

What is the answer to this major frustration many dental assistants keep to themselves? It certainly creates morale problems, jealousy, and oftentimes causes assistants to move from office to office trying to find a dentist who values and respects their dental assistant training just as they do the hygienists' training. Whose fault is it if it's happening or has happened in your practice?

Some dental assisting programs, in my opinion, are substandard, so I fully understand why some dentists don't value the training these employees have gone through. Many dentists have been burned by hiring so-called "trained dental assistants" who don't know how to take a radiograph. Dental assisting schools are popping up everywhere — some are good and some are not. Many dental assisting programs are exceptional and those graduating from those schools are not only very well trained, but they go on to become the cream of the crop of dental assistants.

Many dentists say that when they graduate from dental school, their real training has just begun: "School is never out for the pro." Others say, "I read my journals and that is all I need to stay abreast of the changes in dentistry."

School is never out for clinical assistants, administrative assistants, or hygienists. Practices that have a two-hour per month, in-office training program with each of four departments giving a 30-minute table clinic, report the happiest and most well trained employees in dentistry. In the first 30 minutes, the dentist(s) gives a table clinic on clinical dentistry 101. Then the hygienists speak on topics they know best. The clinical assistants are third, and the business team members are fourth. (For a complimentary copy of Table Clinic Topics, e-mail me at the address at the end of the article.)

Having been one of those OJT (on-the-job trained) dental auxiliaries way back when, I am eternally grateful for those who worked hard to teach me how to be a dental assistant, receptionist (back when we called them that), scheduling
coordinator, financial coordinator, and practice administrator. There were no dental assisting schools in my area back in the early 1960s. My former employers, coworkers, and members of my local, state, and national dental assistant organizations (ADAA) thankfully saw talent in me.

Do I believe in formal training and dental assisting schools? Yes, I certainly do. And it is my hope in writing this viewpoint that if you work with an assistant who has made the supreme sacrifice of going to school to learn how to be a dental assistant, that you will take it very seriously. Explain to them their value in helping build your practice by mentoring and leading others who come on board. They are simply looking for the four Rs of motivation: Responsibility, Recognition, Rewards, and Respect!

Linda Miles, CSP, CMC, of Virginia Beach, Va., is an internationally recognized consultant, speaker, and author on dental practice and staff development. Miles is a successful businesswoman who not only founded LLM&A, a leading INC 500 dental management consulting firm in 1978, but also founded the Speaking Consulting Network, now in its 13th year. Miles is known as the speaker who instinctively understands and loves to share the business side of practicing dentistry. She's a 26-year member of the National Speakers Association, a member of the Institute of Management Consultants, and serves on the board of the Academy of Dental Management Consultants. She believes dentistry should be fun, exciting, and rewarding for patients, dentists, and the entire team. Reach her at [email protected] or visit

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