Many dental assistants who want to be promoted ask what it takes to be a good lead dental assistant. 

So we put the question to our assistants and the employers who hire them. Here’s what they shared:

Maintain a Positive Attitude

Getting bogged down with the details of your day-to-day can take its toll on your mental outlook. 

However, an excellent lead dental assistant doesn’t let that happen for themself, or their team members.

One fantastic suggestion for maintaining a positive attitude is eliminating negative self talk. Just implementing this one thing for you and your staff could have a positive effect on your work environment. And creating a positive work environment is a vital part of being a good lead. 

Do you have tips for maintaining a positive attitude? Share them with us!

Lead by Example

If you expect people to do what you say in the dental office, then the best thing you can do is roll up your sleeves and show people you know what you’re doing. You don’t have to be the best assistant on the team to be a good lead. But you must understand what you’re doing. Working alongside your team builds their trust and confidence in your skills.

“What makes a great lead dental assistant is someone that doesn't see anything above or below their pay grade; Think: ‘If it's to be, it's up to me.’”

Related: 7 Ways to Lead by Example on

Avoid Micromanagement 

Of course, jumping in and leading by example doesn’t mean that you should micromanage your team…

Once you’ve demonstrated a skill or technique, allow your team space to do their work. As the lead, it’s your responsibility to ensure the team runs efficiently without you, and they can’t do that if you’re micromanaging them.

Give Constructive Criticism

Lead by example but don’t micromanage…don’t micromanage but give constructive criticism…

Yes, indeed…being a lead dental assistant isn’t easy. And right now, you may feel like we’re asking you to balance on a tight wire…

A lead will provide positive affirmations, especially on hard days. But a lead also gives constructive criticism while being a team player. A good lead will get others to follow her instructions without being disrespectful or making others feel that you are better than they are. 

We know…not an easy task…

Be a Team Player

Most employers shared they want a team player. And other assistants shared they wanted a lead who would help when help was needed. 

For example, if someone is new or a temp, explaining the basics goes a long way toward making the work environment flow with ease. 

In addition, recognizing when someone is open to a teaching moment allows the lead to step in and teach when someone is ready to learn.

Set Realistic Goals

Setting realistic goals for you and your team is another essential aspect of being a good lead. One of the most important aspects of choosing a lead assistant was their dedication to the dental practice with goals that can be achieved in the short and long term. 

Don’t be afraid to challenge your team and aim high – this will help keep everyone motivated and focused on achieving those goals. 

At the same time, it’s important to be realistic about what your team can achieve. Setting unrealistic goals can be discouraging and lower morale. 

A good lead will set realistic and achievable goals to help the dental practice excel.


Find out what it means to lead…

Respect is important to both employers and your team.

Todd Nicol of Simi Smile Studio shares that one area of respect that is particularly important to employers is respecting and fitting into the culture of the practice.

On the other hand, team members want to feel respected by a humble team leader (who doesn’t make people feel small or stupid).

Be Honest

Transparent and effective communication is something almost every employer and assistant wants from their lead.

Be Patient

Patience is another thing assistants want from their lead. This one can be tough when the employer is saying hurry up. As the lead in the middle, you have to balance when to have patience and when to spur your team to faster action.

Demonstrate Active Listening

Active listening is a crucial skill for a good lead. First, demonstrating active listening is a way to lead by example. 

Second, active listening helps the people involved in the conversation remain engaged while showing you value what they say. This is effective for communications with staff as well as patients.

Active listening can be done by using verbal cues such as nodding your head, making positive comments, or summarizing points made during the conversation. Active listening also makes use of body language, such as maintaining eye contact and leaning forward towards the speaker. Doing this shows you are paying attention and genuinely interested in the discussion. Non-verbal cues like writing down key points or providing feedback on what the other person has said also help demonstrate active listening. 

Now that they know you’re listening let’s talk about empathy…

Demonstrate Empathy

One of the best ways to demonstrate empathy is something we just talked about…

That’s right; active listening!

Taking the time to understand what someone is saying rather than simply responding without fully understanding is a great way to demonstrate empath,

Additionally, try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes to better understand their perspective. You may do this by asking yourself questions like:

  • What is this person feeling?
  • How would I feel if this happened to me?
  • What might be going through the other person’s mind right now?

Fast company suggests asking yourself these four questions when you’re struggling to listen.

Practicing self-awareness and recognizing your own emotions, especially when they are getting in the way of communication are other great skills to help you with your empathy.

Get Everyone Organized

Organization is an important part of being a good lead. Strong organization skills help increase the productivity of your team and streamline patient care. Making sure your work area is organized is important when you’re an assistant. As the lead, it’s your responsibility to ensure that everyone stays organized. This might mean creating systems, decluttering work areas, and helping everyone improve their time management skills.

Phew…is there no end to everything a lead has to be good at?

Be Adaptable

The short answer is: no…

The last thing we’ll share is that a good lead is adaptable. That’s pretty much a catch-all for anything we missed up above. You’ve got to be good at it, good at teaching it, and good at getting other people to do it.

What else did we miss? Let us know what you think makes a good lead dental assistant.

Dental Assistant Resources

Chris Lewandowski

Published May 30, 2023

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