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1.16.09 Issue #358 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague
Dental Assistant Salary Review
Smart Leadership
Hygiene Ergonomics

Hiring? How Do Your Assistant Salaries Compare?
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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It is said that money isn’t everything, but in these uncertain economic times, there’s certainly no shortage of discussion on the topic of dollars and cents. And if you’re in the market to hire a dental assistant you’ll no doubt want to know just how much money you’ll need to be seen as a competitive employer in today’s dental marketplace.

2008 is OverThe recently released Show Me The Money DANB Certificant Salary Survey released by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) is an essential tool in determining how your wages compare to state and national averages. 

If your practice is in West Virginia, results show that dental offices there tend to be on the low end of the salary equation. West Virginia dentists are paying assistants $13.62 an hour on average. Their neighbors to the Northeast in Massachusetts, however, hold the top salary spot at $24 per hour.

Nationwide, the median salary per hour is $18.00 for certified dental assistants and $15.62 for non-certified assistants.  Salaries are up more than 8% for certified dental assistants over those reported in 2006 when survey results showed the median salary at $16.50 per hour, compared to $14.74 for non-certified assistants.

As would be expected, certified dental assistants with more experience earn higher wages. Those starting out in the profession with 0-5 years experience make $15 per hour on average. Those working in the field between 16 and 20 years earn $18 per hour. And assistants working in periodontal offices earn the highest salaries on average at $19.

Although the assumption may be that large cities and metropolitan practices must pay more, the survey results don’t bear that out. The median salary for both rural areas and large cities is $18.00. Those locations described as metropolitan pay $18.98 on average.

The DANB survey was conducted during the first quarter of 2008. Approximately 5,000 surveys were mailed to a nationwide random sample of certified dental assistants, and 26%, or 1321, returned the surveys.

click to view larger (pdf)Salary Survey Map 2008

Now that you have an idea of what you’ll need to pay, next turn your attention to making sure the next assistant you hire is the best.

Follow these steps and always hire smart – not fast.

  1. Assess the systems before you bring in a new employee.
  2. Take 15 minutes and think about what you want the person in this position to do. Do you want someone who is accountable, ambitious, and willing to learn new things? Or will a “chair-warmer” do?
  3. Plan to provide training. Give the new hire the tools and teaching to achieve their best and you’ll both benefit significantly.
  4. Update or write a job description for the job tailored to attract the employee you need. Include the job title, job summary, and specific duties. This is a simple yet critical tool that clarifies what skills the applicant must possess and explains what duties they would perform.
  5. Develop an ad and place it on multiple websites and in multiple publications. Promote those aspects of the job that will have the greatest appeal, including money. Ads that do not include salary are ignored by 50% of job prospects. Sell the position. Keep the copy simple but answer the reader’s questions – job title, job scope, duties, responsibilities, benefits, application procedures, financial incentives, and location. If you have a website, direct prospects to your website to learn more about your practice and the position.
  6. Pre-screen applicants on the phone. Address your most pressing concerns up front. If there are gaps in employment history, now is the time to find out why.
  7. Conduct interviews using a written set of standard questions for each applicant to compare responses to the sa.
  8. me questions.
  9. Test for the best. The McKenzie Management Employee Assessment test is a computerized assessment tool that measures dental practice job applicants against a profile of the “ideal” dental practice employee for each position. Applicants being considered answer a list of questions online. Just minutes later, the dentist receives a statistically reliable report enabling her/him to clearly determine if the candidate under consideration would be a good match for the dental practice position being filled.
  10. Check references and confirm work histories.
  11. Pay a competitive wage. Hire the best. Give feedback often. And enjoy the benefits

Interested in speaking to Sally about your practice concerns? Email her at
Interested in having Sally speak to your dental society or study club? Click here.

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New Year...Same Problem

Nancy Haller
Dr. Nancy Haller
Dentist Coach
McKenzie Management
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Smart Leadership in Turbulent Times

Like many business leaders, you’re probably feeling the pinch of a tough
economy. The nation’s unemployment rate is over 6% and expected to climb
higher in the months ahead. Cost of living is at a record high level.  Perhaps
patients are postponing treatment or downgrading to cheaper alternatives.

You say you’ve tried to get ahead but you’re just too overwhelmed with responsibilities to invest in your practice?  Look, the only way to improve your practice is to get into ACTION, especially in these turbulent times. The truth is, you’re probably too caught up with daily tasks to ever invest in the long term. However, the practices that survive will be those whose leaders work smart not just hard. That means developing yourself now. How? Through training and coaching for greater effective leadership.

I can imagine what some readers might be thinking:

  • Leaders are born. You either have it or you don’t. (wrong!)
  • I went to a leadership workshop and I didn’t see results. (what did you do and for how long did you stick with it?)
  • I don’t have time. (it doesn’t take a lot of time)
  • It’s too expensive. (not true)
  • I already am a good leader. (might be true and you can always improve)

Leadership TrainingOK. So you’re technically competent as a dentist. You’ve got the drive to make it through an arduous educational program. You’ve established yourself in a practice. Most people would say you’re a success. However, while you know the technical components of your job extremely well, you still can grow as a leader and build relationships so your employees willingly follow.

Interestingly, for the first time ever, Harvard Business Review has conducted its own research into some aspect of business, in this case coaching.  They surveyed 140 leading coaches, and all agreed that coaching has evolved. Ten years ago, coaching was used to help fix “toxic” behavior.

However, today most coaching (48%) is about developing the capabilities of “high-potential performers”. And 26% of those who engage in coaching do so because they want “an objective sounding board”. Today only 12% of coaching is used to address leadership problems. With this shift, coaching is no longer a stigma’ but something of a ‘badge of honor’. I have seen this change occur over my 15 years with the Center for Creative Leadership. Like the HBR survey, CCL’s research shows that the executives who get the most out of coaching have a openness and willingness to learn and grow.

How to Reward Your Dental TeamIn addition to keeping yourself motivated during the downturn, it’s essential to keep your team motivated. Employees view their work in your practice through the relationship they have with you. If they are dissatisfied with you, they aren’t going to work as hard, and they’re more likely to jump ship as soon as another opportunity becomes available. Remember, unhappy employees don’t leave companies....they leave bosses!

Knowing this fact puts you in a great position. You have control over the kind of relationship you develop with your employees. One of the biggest benefits of coaching is that you can get an objective measure of how your employees see you now. And one of the most important goals of coaching is to bridge the gap between where you are right now and where you want to be.

Despite the bad economy, successful leaders still think it's essential to hold the line on developing their skills. Leaders use coaching to help them understand how to act in a demanding and volatile business world. So can you.

The choice is yours. You can make a panicked attempt to squeeze more out of your already anxious employees who will beat a path out your door when things improve. Or, you can focus on the long term and invest in leadership skills, relationships with your team, effective reward systems and motivating work environments. The long view leads to big payoffs, not only as the dental industry struggles during economic and market turmoil, but even more when the economy picks up. Strive to thrive and set yourself up for significant competitive advantage.

Be smart during this economic downturn. Contact Dr. Haller at

She’ll review your strengths with you and develop an action plan to “turn up the volume” on your leadership.

Need help with implementing new systems in your hygiene department to ensure stellar performance? Email

Interested in having Angie speak to your study group or at your next seminar? Click here.

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Will this Patient Feel Welcome In Your Practice

Angie Stone
Angie Stone RDH, BS
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Is Hygiene a Pain?

The answer to this may be a resounding, “YES”! Figuratively speaking, there are many reasons hygiene can be a pain.  Patients show up late, openings make steam come out of the dentist’s ears, running behind schedule is stressful, patients are not interested in the condition of their mouth, etc.  The list can go on and on! 

While this makes sense figuratively, it also makes sense literally. It is a fact that hygienists suffer from aching wrists, backs and necks.  In 2001, 65% of registered dental hygienists reported having carpel tunnel syndrome (CTS) that required days away from work and 79% of dental hygienists reported days away from work due to repetitive motion exposure. Several studies show that 70-80% of hygienists are practicing with some sort of musculoskeletal pain or discomfort.

Perio DiseaseIs it any wonder this happens to the hygienist’s body?  Take a look at a hygienist at work.  Shoulders are typically held up under their ears. They are hunched over the patient so they can get close enough to see those tiny little teeth and fingers grip thin handled instruments like eagles clutches their prey.  Combine this environment with the fact that the average hygienist works approximately 16 years and many of them work an estimated 32 hours per week.  If hygienists practice in this position for that amount of time, it is obvious why hygiene is a pain, literally.

Spend an hour hanging out in a room full of hygienists and this will prove to be true. I have heard many of my colleagues speak about the pain they experience on a daily basis as a result of being a hygienist. I too, have felt the effect of sitting in a contorted position for several hours a day.  At one point in my career my neck and shoulders hurt so badly I could not endure more than a couple of weeks in between visits to the chiropractor.  I was not sure how much longer I would be able to tolerate the pain.  Thankfully I was working with a dentist who recognized the importance of keeping me pain free. He recommended I start using loupes and work sitting in an ergonomic chair.  This was the dawn of a new day for me.

Patient Education ModelsI am sure the loupes and chair have saved my career. My neck and shoulder pain dissipated almost spontaneously.  This was directly related to the natural position I was able to practice in.  No longer did I need to sit hunched over the patient to see what I was doing.  The arms on the chair provided a place for me to rest my arms, which resulted in my shoulders being in a natural position and not crunched up to my ears.

Not only have loupes made me a healthier/happier hygienist, my patients have benefited from them as well.  I am able to provide a more thorough and comfortable cleaning experience due to improved vision.  I do not need to rush through an appointment because I need to get out of an uncomfortable position.  My disposition is more pleasant because I don’t hurt.  Patients are not inconvenienced by my having to reschedule them due to a chiropractor appointment or having to take the day off because I just can’t work with the pain.

When speaking with my colleagues about loupes they are typically resistant to them due to the cost. My answer is that this is a “no brainer”.  How can a price be attached to the benefits I just mentioned? If the hygienist becomes too crippled, he/she will be out of work.  An investment in health is worth the price to prevent this catastrophe.  Many loupe companies offer an interest free payment plan so they can be paid for over time.  While I am a proponent of hygienists purchasing their own equipment, dentists should mull over the advantages of their hygienists practicing in an ergonomically correct position and how assisting them in staying healthy would benefit them and their practice.  A day of canceled hygiene appointments results in a loss of approximately $1200 in production, not to mention the inconvenience to the patients and the hassle of trying to reschedule the patients into an already full hygiene schedule.  What if the injuries become so severe the hygienist misses several days in a year? This could lead to major issues within the office which would far outweigh the cost of loupes and a chair.  

Many offices have incorporated ways to assist the hygienist in obtaining ergonomic equipment.  Some purchase the equipment up front and have the hygienist pay them back over time through a payroll deduction.  Others agree to pay for a certain percentage of the equipment and the hygienist pays the rest.   I have seen offices purchase the equipment out right and then it is the property of the office.  I am sure there are other creative ways to make practicing ergonomically a reality.  The bottom line is that hygienists need to be practicing smarter in order to keep their job from becoming a pain, literally.

Need help setting goals to take your practice to the next level? Contact Dr. Haller at

Interested in having Dr. Haller speak to your dental society or study club? Click here.

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