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5 Tips to Find and Keep Superstar Dental Assistants

The Dale Foundation logo and AADOM logo with text, "real-world insights from AADOM authors" presenting on hiring dental assistants

As dental practice managers know, hiring dental assistants are an integral part of any dental practice, but retaining dental assisting staff can be a challenge. Staff turnover is not only frustrating, but it also places a strain on the entire dental team and can zap productivity and profits.

The cost of turnover

Even though some turnover is normal, it can negatively impact an organization.

It takes valuable time and money to recruit, evaluate, hire, and train new employees to fill the open positions. Plus, the lost productivity can end up costing your practice thousands of dollars.

For other employees, turnover can lead to an increased workload, decreased productivity, and lower morale. For patients, there can be a decline in relationships and loyalty, particularly if it was a patient’s favorite dental team member who left the dental practice

The cause of turnover

Employees leave organizations for all kinds of reasons. But as the dental practice manager, you want to make sure you are hiring awesome employees and keeping them.

So, why does turnover happen?

There are many causes, but the main reasons why employees voluntarily quit are low job satisfaction and engagement – in other words, employees tend to quit when their job isn’t enjoyable, they aren’t using their skills, and they don’t feel like they are growing in their careers.

The solutions to stop turnover

There are steps that proactive dental practice managers can take to curb turnover and foster a culture of excellence. These tips are based on research from the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) and its affiliate, the DALE Foundation.

Tip 1: Hiring dental assistants for attitude and enthusiasm

Dental assistants play an important role in being the liaison between the patient and the doctor. Although clinical skills are very important, the “soft skills” are also essential and difficult to teach.

According to the DALE Foundation’s Value of Dental Assistants to the Dental Practice research, dentists and dental practice managers agreed that the most important traits of effective dental assistants are:

  • Having good patient care skills
  • Being a team player
  • Showing a willingness to learn
  • Taking ownership of work
  • Wanting to go the extra mile

Look for these traits when hiring dental assistants for your dental practice.

Consider screening for such qualities in the interview process by developing behavioral-type questions to determine whether a potential hire shows the right characteristics.

Tip 2: Invest in dental assistant training and education

Education and training are the keys to a productive dental assistant.

According to the DALE Foundation’s Value of Dental Assistants to the Dental Practice research, 96% of dental practice managers and dentists agreed that an effective assistant “does it right the first time.” So teaching dental assistants how to “do it right” is where the education and training come in.

Nearly all dentists and dental business managers agreed that dental assistants who complete continuing education (CE) are more likely to contribute to practice profitability. They also agreed that CE is critical to maintaining dental assistants’ skills.

But interestingly, fewer than half of dental assistants reported that their employer pays for CE or provides CE in the office.

One of the most important things your dental practice can do is to provide opportunities for dental courses, education, and training so that your assistants have the skills and knowledge to help enhance the practice.

Consider offering continuing education opportunities to your assistants, such as:

  • Offering CE in the office, like lunch and learns
  • Providing opportunities for dental assistants to learn about dental products – for example, setting up meetings with sales reps
  • Providing infection control training from verified sources, like OSAP, OSHA, CDC, and the DALE Foundation
  • Paying for CE courses that can be completed online any time, anywhere, like the courses offered through the DALE Foundation

Tip 3: Offer a career path to dental assistants

Studies have shown that employees who stay with an organization do so because they find their work enjoyable are using their strengths on the job, and feel they are gaining skills and experiences to develop professionally.

One of the ways to retain your dental assisting staff is to help them identify professional growth opportunities – like being able to perform expanded functions.

A good place to start is by reviewing the dental assisting functions that are allowed in your state, as outlined by the governing dental practice act and administrative rules.

That information will be a helpful guide to identify which functions can be delegated and what education, training, or experience is required. To learn more, review DANB’s search-by-state map… This text opens a new tab to the DANB website….

Once you know the exact dental assisting requirements in your state and the steps required to get to each level, you can help provide your assistants with a career path. Share this information with the dentist, and together, encourage your assistants to earn the education and credentials they need to advance to the next level in their career and their ability to contribute to the dental practice.

99% of dental practice managers and dentists agreed that an effective dental assistant contributes to practice productivity. Providing a career path and growth opportunities for assistants not only increases the likelihood of employee loyalty and retention, but it can also improve practice productivity.

Tip 4: Foster an environment of recognition

Recognition goes a long way – and DANB and the DALE Foundation hear again and again how appreciative dental assistants are when they receive acknowledgment for their hard work and a job well done.

Recognition comes in many forms; for example, regularly and publicly recognizing staff achievements. This can be informal, such as saying “thank you” for a job well done, or more formal, like an “employee of the month” program.

Work with your dentist or dental HR to determine what would be the best approach for your dental practice.

Tip 5: Provide fair compensation

Although there are many factors that contribute to employee loyalty, compensation is certainly one of them.

In DANB’s 2018-2019 Dental Assistants Satisfaction and Salary Survey, assistants were asked what factors were the most important to them in a job, and salary was listed as number one by a wide margin. Research conducted by staffing agencies has also found similar results.

Providing fair compensation to dental assistants is one way to make your dental practice an attractive place to work.

There are a few resources you can use to look up average wages for dental assistants in your state. For example, every two years, DANB publishes a salary survey with the median wages DANB Certified Dental Assistants earn… This text opens a new tab to the DANB website with wages….

If your staff is not DANB certified, you can look up the dental assisting wages of all assistants through the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics webiste… This text opens a new tab to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics website….

Using these resources can help you get a sense of whether or not your pay rate for assistants is within the market range.

To learn more about hiring dental assistants, visit… This text opens a new tab to the DANB official website… and… This text opens a new tab to the DALE Foundation website….

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