Should You Settle as a U.S. Dental Assistant?

I’ve seen this happen so many times, international dentists end-up staying as dental assistants in the states. Actually, one of my dental assistants I’m working with right now used to be a physician in her country. It makes me very very upset every time I see it happen, you’re meant to be much more, don’t ever do this! Here’s a scenario I’ve seen happen more than a few times with some variations:

Aditi graduated from dental school in her country in 2008, practiced for a couple of years and came to the states with her husband as she got married. Her husband is a U.S. citizen and this gave her a permanent resident status, now Aditi is ready to get her U.S. dental license. She vaguely knows the steps she needs to take; taking the NBDE 1 and TOEFL, getting her education evaluated, shadowing or assisting to get some U.S. work experience etc. This all sounds like a lot of work but she has some friends that have done it so she can talk to them if she needs help. Studying for the boards was very challenging, Aditi invested 6 months of solid full-time studying into it, thankfully she has a loving supportive husband that brought her up every time she had a hard time. One of her friends knows a U.S. dentist and introduced her to him so she can volunteer at his office twice a week. As she’s doing that she took TOEFL, wrote her SOP, got recommendation letters and she’s now ready to apply. Finding places to apply to and making sure she’s doing it the right way was another challenge, and she couldn’t believe how expensive it was to apply, but she did it. She applied to about 10 programs and kept her fingers crossed, and she got it, an interview call!! She prepared as hard as she could and gave the interview her best, and got wait-listed. A big disappointment but she waited a few months, hoping the list will move and she’ll get in, but nothing happened. In the meanwhile she was studying for NBDE II, just in case it didn’t work out. She took the test, passed it and kept working at the dentist’s office and got ready for the next application cycle. She also became a registered dental assistant and became x-ray certified as one more thing to add to her CV. Know it’s her second year trying, she wrote a brand-new personal statement, updated her CV and got everything ready once more; now with the part II boards, she can apply to even more schools. She doesn’t want to take a chance so she applies to every single school she can, this time she gets 2 interview calls!! Excited but nervous, she prepares once more and attends the interviews. Again, wait-listed in both programs, she waits several months. The wait-list seems to be moving but she never got a accepted. By know she’s earning a little money and got used to working as a dental assistant, it’s already been a couple years since she’s been one. Aditi lost all confidence and hope to be a dentist again, she’s so confused and frustrated. So many times she wanted to cry while assisting, she was a dentist but the dentist she was working for treated her as any other assistant. She wanted to be a doctor again so badly, but nothing was working out, she had tried everything, so she just gave up and settled as a dental assistant, earning about $2,500/month…..


Do I understand why Aditi gave up?

Well yes, she’s never failed in her life before but for this she tried her very best two times, but it didn’t work. Of course she felt frustrated and hopeless…

Do I think she should have given up?

Hell NO! Aditi did give it her best; she spent tons of time on forums, consulted her friends and tried really hard to do things right. But the thing is, that could be enough for some people to get in, but not for everyone. She did what the programs asked her to do, taking the boards, writing a personal statement, and a bunch more stuff, even tried to get her CV looking good by assisting and stuff, but giving up without investigating further where things went wrong and just settling as a dental assistant??!! Unacceptable.

Seeing this happen over and over again is the reason I’m doing what I do, even though I’m super busy practicing. A general dentist earns $120k a year easily right after getting out of school, it’s a very rewarding and lucrative profession. And on top of that people give you instant respect when they know you’re a dentist, of course it takes hard work to become one! Find someone who can help you before giving up, it doesn’t have to be me, just make sure the person knows the ins and outs of the process well enough to see beyond what the average applicant does. It’s a much smarter move than staying as a dental assistant.

Never settle for less!!


  1. owais February 8, 2019 at 9:09 am - Reply

    Looks like even US citizens are having a hard time getting DDS.Given the stories,I guess it is hard,tedious, expensive and time consuming with no guarantee of getting through.More so for international dentists than natives.So I wonder if working as a hygienist or assistant is a good start to begin with.I have heard that hygienists earn 4-5k working part time.That way puts least strain on one’s finances and patience.You can always upgrade anytime you feel.Only sacrifice that seems to be required is letting go of professional ego.In todays world people judge you by your earnings and possessions.Good or bad,thats the world we live in.I am a practising fully liscensed dentist in my country,yet my monthly earnings are less than an average skilled uneducated worker say a plumber.It is hard to believe but is truth for developing countries like India where the whole social hierarchy is torn apart by corruption,bad governance and crime.My professional degree makes me proud and special,only till I receive my paycheck at the end of the month.So If I have to choose between an underemployed dentist home and a dental auxillary in a devloped country filled with opportunities,I will choose later.
    So I would kindly request you to provide me full information of the process …….
    There is a wise saying that when nothing works out lower your standards

    • Christ Barcenas February 13, 2019 at 6:45 am - Reply

      Totally understand where you’re coming from Owais. Here’s a FAQ pdf for the process of becoming a dental hygienist in the US as an international dentist which I think you’ll find useful.

  2. Madhu Singh January 20, 2018 at 4:31 pm - Reply

    Hi Alyssa,
    Exactly sometimes we got lost from our goals. This story is somewhere
    implemented on me, coming to the United States was never my dream. All
    of sudden, after my graduation I got a proposal and got married to an
    American citizen. Since my arrival in 2014, I passed NDBE part 1
    and part 2. In 2015, I applied to almost 6-7 school but ended up with no
    interview. That time I also got pregnant also worked as a dental
    assistant for part time just to improve my resume. In Jan 2016, a
    beautiful angel came in my life and I got too busy in enjoying my
    motherhood and taking care of my baby, she becomes my first priority in
    my life. Initially, my husband family members support that we will take
    care of the baby you should go ahead apply for dental school. But as the
    time come I got one interview nobody came close to help us. In fact,
    some family member said that what the need for you to make so comprises
    and doing further studies, you have well settle husband you don’t need
    to work or study. I didn’t believe people think like that, I shut their
    mouth by saying that I wanted to create my own identity, I wanted to
    depend on myself, if today I hesitate to work hard then what should I
    teach my daughter. My husband is very supportive and respects my
    decision, he has a business so less time for the babysitting but he
    tries his best to manage his time and helping me during my MHA
    coursework. At that time, I completely understood that she is my
    responsibility I have to take care of her along with my education. Again in my second cycle, I
    applied in few dental school, I got one interview but they put me in waiting list and for the backup
    plan, I also enrolled in one MHA program and got an interview in MHA program. I got MHA offer,
    I decided to accept their offer to purse MHA instead of waiting for
    dental school. Now, in May 2018, I am going to graduate with MHA
    degree.This moment of life I wanted to do some decent job, but still, I
    feel away from dentistry, something like incomplete part of life. I just feel little hesitate to apply because of all
    frustrating process of applications and interviews. Any suggestion what are
    chance to get in dental school with masters program.
    Appreciate with your response!
    Thank you

    • Christ Barcenas January 23, 2018 at 3:58 am - Reply

      Hello Madhu, feel free to leave us an email, we’d be happy to help you!

    • Anita September 25, 2019 at 10:28 pm - Reply

      Hi madhu.. Am Dr anita.. Dentist from India.. Planning to move to USA…. Can I ask some questions??

  3. Dr. Romii BDS October 17, 2013 at 12:29 pm - Reply

    Well, it’s very sad story of her, but it is very hard to be a dentist in USA it is not impossible but yet hard, so why not being a DA and get those 2,500/Mo………

    • Dr. Alyssa October 19, 2013 at 4:14 pm - Reply

      Just a matter of preference =)

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