What Your Dental Assistants Want in a Dentist

  1. Dental assistants are the backbone of a dental practice. Dental assistants work in an emotionally charged environment, not only are they in charge of keeping the patient comfortable and safe they must help the dentist deliver care with competence and care. Historically dentistry has attracted people to work in the industry who want to help people. This desire to help people generally translates to an employee who wants to please the dentist they are working with. Many dental assistants are people pleasers who feel uncomfortable if their dentist is angry. People pleasers also avoid conflict, and they feel responsible for how others view them. This trio of characteristics is manageable if the dentist and the others in the office are generous with authentic praise and affirmation. People pleasers often will put others ahead of themselves so it can be difficult to determine what is missing from their work life satisfaction until they become frustrated and fire the dentist as their boss.

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller

What do dental assistants want from a dentist? During a recent coaching session with one of my associate dentists, I asked him to describe his ideal dental assistant. He quickly provided me with a long list of the perfect employee. I then asked, “what do you think your dental assistants want from you?” The answers came slowly and were much less specific. As he tried to articulate his response, he admitted he wasn’t really sure. I surveyed his assistants and ten other dental assistants within my organization and discovered over twenty things that dental assistants wanted from their dentist. Many of the twenty desires were repeated among different assistants and fell into five broad categories.

  1. The dentist to help out / Pitch in to help run smoothly
    a. Dentist pitches in and helps out
    b. The dentist is efficient with time
    c. Dentist communicates well with staff
  2. To Like the dentist/ some form of a relationship
    a. Dentist and assistant are a cohesive team
    b. The dentist is appreciative
    c. Dentist respects the assistant and values them
    d. The dentist is positive
    e. The dentist is friendly
    f. The dentist is kind
    g. The dentist is open to criticism
    h. Dentist demonstrates gratitude
  3. Mentorship/Coaching/Teacher
    a. Dentist motivates assistant to do better and be better
    b. Dentist helps assistant learn
    c. Dentist trusts the assistant to do more
    d. Dentist is understanding
  4. Pride in the work the dentist is delivering
    a. A dentist who earns respect
    b. A dentist who they can trust
  5. The dentist to treat patients well
    a. Dentist puts the patients best interest first
    b. Dentist communicates well with patients
    c. Dentist demonstrates compassion for the patient
Create your own unique culture

Within large group practices, dental assistants can work with a variety of dentists. The larger numbers of dentists to work with offer advantages as well as challenges. The benefits are that there is a greater diversity of exposure for the dental assistant. This variety affords the dental assistant a more extensive range of experience which can be stimulating and exciting for the dental assistant. It also provides the chance for leadership and management skills to develop and flourish. The disadvantages are that a dental assistant now can compare the micro-culture that he or she routinely works within to the other micro-cultures within the office. Comparison at times leads to jealousy, resentment, and regret when it is perceived that one dentist would be more favorable to work with than another. For dentists who find themselves working in large group practice studying the five broad categories that contribute to dental assistant satisfaction with their dentist could be a useful endeavor of time.

“It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed.” –Napolean Hill

For the concerned dentist who truly wants to grow a highly engaged team I suggest the following:

  1. Survey your team
  2. Reflect on their answers
  3. Decide what areas you can improve
  4. Humble yourself by admitting your challenges
  5. Commit to improving your culture
  6. Ask them to help you by communicating to you when your previous tendencies resurface

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