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8 Characteristics of a Successful Dental Assistant

Dental Assistant helping patientIf you are considering a career as a dental assistant, there may be many reasons for your decision. The healthcare industry offers some of the most secure, stable, and rewarding jobs in the country. However, if you are going to succeed in your new position, you’ll need to arm yourself with some important skills. Certain characteristics can make a big difference in your overall success as a dental assistant, and the right certificate program can help you develop them.

A Desire to Help Others

Like most people, you are probably considering a career as a dental assistant because you like helping other people. Without a desire to help others, you won’t find this profession to be rewarding or enjoyable. Your mission as a dental assistant is to help patients feel comfortable throughout their exam while ensuring office operations run smoothly.

Organizational Skills

To be successful in the dental assisting profession, you’ll need to be well organized. With many responsibilities throughout your day, it is important to keep equipment organized while prioritizing your duties. You’ll need to conform to OSHA regulations, HIPAA compliance standards, and your dentist’s internal policies. Specifically, you’ll be tasked with organizing supplies and inventory, and your skills in this area will ensure the dental office runs successfully and smoothly.

A Good Active Listener

Most jobs will require good listening skills. However, in the dental field, failure to listen actively could come at the expense of the patient’s health and safety. Dental assistants need to listen to both patients and other dental staff. You’ll need to follow directions appropriately so that you can best treat patients. Being a good listener will yield many benefits:

  • You’ll help make patients feel more at ease and appreciated
  • You’ll learn from your coworkers and can obtain good advice on how to improve your performance
  • You’ll develop skills in tolerance and patience
  • You’ll be better prepared to solve problems and identify new opportunities
  • You’ll better understand the needs of your patients and dental staff

Active listening skills that you obtain in your dental assistant position will also transfer to other areas of your life.


A good dental assistant will need to be incredibly versatile in order to do well in the position. The responsibilities assigned to you will be varied and can change on a daily basis. Some of the things you might be asked to do include the following:

  • Ensure exam rooms are properly stocked and ready for incoming appointments
  • Organize and arrange all materials and equipment in a dental exam room
  • Ensure dental instruments are properly sterilized
  • Greet dental patients and take them to exam rooms
  • Update medical records and obtain necessary patient information
  • Ease patient worries and help them feel more comfortable
  • Handle and process X-ray images
  • Sanitize and clean a dental exam room after a patient appointment
  • Help with front office activities, including payment collection and appointment scheduling

As a dental assistant, you’ll be expected to jump in and help in any way necessary throughout the day. You will need to handle change well and be prepared for any task that is thrown your way.

Empathy and Compassion

There are two important qualities that you will need to exhibit as a dental assistant: compassion and empathy. There are simple definitions to help you understand both:

  • Compassion is a feeling of distress for the suffering of another person. It also involves a feeling of wanting to help someone who is struggling. Showing caring, kindness, and a willingness to help are all acts of compassion.
  • Empathy is the ability to understand how another person is feeling. You might also share in those feelings. Empathy is different from sympathy, which involves feelings of sorrow or pity for the misfortunes of another.

A trip to the dentist is a scary experience for many people, while others may simply find it uncomfortable. As a dental assistant, you may encounter patients who are downright fearful, and they’ll appreciate an understanding and kind approach. If you aren’t able to put yourself in the patient’s shoes, you’ll lack these important traits for success.

Interpersonal Skills

Interpersonal skills allow people to interact properly with others. This is an especially important quality if you want to work in the field of dental assisting. Dental assistants work closely with patients and dentists. At times, patients will be incredibly stressed or in pain, so you’ll need to be sensitive to the emotions of those around you.

As a dental assistant, you will also have the opportunity to interact with people from all walks of life. Proper communication is a necessity to improve dental office quality of care. You’ll need to tell patients what to expect throughout their appointment and need to properly communicate good oral hygiene practices. Additionally, you’ll act as a liaison between the dentist and patients, so your communication skills must be exceptional.

A Team Player

As a dental assistant, there are plenty of times when you will find yourself completing your duties on your own. However, as part of a larger dental office, it is important that you are a team player and can work well with others. Most dental offices have several dental assistants and hygienists on staff. You’ll need to work together to complete your duties and enhance the mission of the office, but this will offer many learning opportunities.

Attention to Detail

The best dental assistant program will teach you many skills that require good attention to detail. Some of these include:

  • Instrument sterilization
  • Patient record maintenance
  • Chairside assistance
  • X-ray processing

An eye for detail will help you to complete these tasks quickly and easily. A detail-oriented mindset will also help to ensure patient health and safety.

At Northwestern College, we are committed to helping our students succeed as dental assistants. Our Dental Assisting certification program will provide you with the classroom knowledge and real-world experience you need to pursue this rewarding career field. Contact an admissions representative today for more information.