Helping those who need it most: The rewards of working in public health dental assisting

Dental Assistant 2

Dental assistants in public health settings play a vital role in caring for those who do not traditionally have access to dental care. Their work serves populations in need, including students, seniors, and pregnant patients. These dental assistants support both the patient and the dental team, ensuring smooth and safe operations  via infection prevention and control and providing important chairside patient care. 

From enabling healthy smiles to harnessing the opportunity for professional growth and development, public health dentistry can be a rewarding profession for dental assistants. 

Meet Miranda

Miranda Schwartz.Miranda Schwartz.

Nearly 11 years ago, Miranda Schwartz began her career in public health dentistry as a sterilization tech and quickly advanced to a dental assistant role.

"I watched the assistants establish bonds with their patients, provide them knowledge that would improve their health, and shepherd their providers around the clinic in a way that gets the work completed in the most efficient manner. This was a team of multitasking superheroes and I wanted to be a member of it," Scwartz said. 

Schwartz's career in dental assisting served as a springboard for significant professional development. Following roles in sterilization and chairside assisting, she earned her expanded function dental assisting license and became the lead dental assistant. She advanced via positions in training and electronic records before landing her current role as the dental clinic administrator.

"The best part of my job is connecting with patients on a human level and communicating to them that we genuinely want them to have a healthier smile," Schwartz said. "There's so much anxiety around seeking dental treatment and fear of judgment. Working through those feelings with a patient and breaking through their barriers to enable honest and caring communication and build trust is a really good feeling," she said.

The human side of building a long, successful career in dental assisting makes a difference. Schwartz encourages public health leaders to empower their employees to see the importance of the work they do and connect their work to the difference it makes in people's lives.

"Do routine check-ins for staff well-being," she recommended. "We're all people living lives and dealing with our own struggles and joys. If your assistants feel you genuinely care about them, they'll be more likely to be engaged with the team and mission. I feel valued when my leaders acknowledge my direct support in getting something done that wasn't easily accomplished. I also feel valued and motivated when I understand why the work we are doing is important."

 Meet Cynthia

Cynthia Sandoval, RDA.Cynthia Sandoval, RDA.

After a positive patient experience as a child at CentroMed in San Antonio, Cynthia Sandoval, RDA, dreamed of a career in dentistry. That dream became a reality. Sandoval has called CentroMed her work home for more than 17 years. 

"I was looking for a career that promoted self-empowerment," Sandoval recalled. "Working in the fast-food industry during my teenage years wasn't what I envisioned for my future. I was looking for a profession that would help me become stronger and confident. I wanted to further my education, enhance my lifestyle, and prove that I had the capability and potential to do more. This inspired me to pursue dental assisting as a career. I find it very gratifying to help others and play a part in giving them confidence in their smiles."

Childhood dreams have power. CentroMed has been Sandoval's first and only employer as a dental assistant. She completed her dental assistant externship at CentroMed, was offered a dental assistant position, and has advanced throughout the past 17 years and currently serves in a lead dental assisting role.

"Working for a clinic as a dental assistant helps me give back to the community -- the same community that has helped many Hispanic families like mine. I love to help patients feel comfortable during each visit," she shared.

"I feel connected with the mission and values of [public health dentistry]. My personal life goals and culture are in alignment with the company's goals and culture. I have been given opportunities for growth and advancement not only in the professional aspect of my life but also in the personal aspect. I get to be a great role model for my children and for entry-level dental assistants who need my guidance," Sandoval added.

Sandoval strongly encourages dental employers to guide their dental assistants to expand their knowledge and skills by investing and sending dental assistants to continuing education courses and pay for certifications. This additional knowledge and training benefits the organization and facilitates long, rewarding careers. Dental assistants are an essential part of all dental teams, and the opportunity for advancement via education and professional staff development matters. 

She also recommends to those looking for career opportunities to consider working as a dental assistant. "It is so rewarding to be a dental assistant," she said. "It is fun, exciting, and you will always have something to do. Don't be afraid to expand your skills. There is so much to do, and the dental field has so much to offer. You will gain so many experiences."

Dental Assistants Recognition Week (DARW) kicked off on March 3 and is the perfect time to celebrate and learn from team members who are committed to a long and rewarding careers in dental assisting. This is the third article in a series celebrating dental assistants who have built long, rewarding careers in the profession.

Jen Hawley Price, MAS, MS is chief partnership and engagement officer at the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) and the DALE Foundation. She oversees the design, implementation, and management of DALE Foundation educational products and supports key strategic initiatives, including collaborative work with key partners in the dental industry. Learn more at

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