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Taking the Fear Out of Dental Appointments

Alyssa Assante, RDH, knew she wanted to become a dental hygienist in the 5th grade. With a dentist father, she spent her summers helping out at her dad’s practice in Carlsbad, California. She was even nominated for the “Colgate Smile Award” her senior year in high school.

She completed dental hygiene school at Utah Tech University in St. George in 2011. With a passion for children, Assante particularly enjoyed participating in Sealant Saturdays, Give Kids A Smile, elementary school classroom education, and free mobile dentistry at elementary schools.

Alyssa Assante, RDH, is passionate about supporting kids toward a lifetime of good oral health.

After becoming a registered dental hygienist, she moved to Washington state to practice dental hygiene in a rural town for a family dentist. Assante treated a variety of populations, but particularly loved treating pediatric patients. She worked hard to create a positive dental foundation for children to help get them on the path to lifelong oral health.

In 2012, while practicing in Ellensburg, Washington, Assante created an oral hygiene education program, collected dental hygiene samples, and taught various age groups at elementary schools in the community. She also began serving youth from underserved communities at pop-up clinics in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, which cemented her desire to help educate and create positive dental experiences for the youngest patients.

Assante moved to Seattle where she continued working in private dental practices as a temp. She then experienced a significant change with a move across the pond to England due to her husband’s job. After an arduous process, she was able to work as a dental hygienist abroad.

Now as the mother of two and following another move, this time to Ireland, Assante has focused on a new endeavor — writing children’s books about oral health. These fun rhyming books give kids a gentle step-by-step experience with a focus on the sensory aspect of the dental appointment so there are no surprises. She is currently using a kickstarter campaign to support the publication of her books. Thus far she has raised more than $6,600 of her $10,000 goal!

Assante took time out to discuss her love of dental hygiene and her passion for helping children with Dimensions of Dental Hygiene.

Clearly you enjoy giving back! Dental hygiene is a demanding job on its own. What motivates you to go the extra mile?

Dental hygiene is undeniably a physically and emotionally demanding profession. Personally, I dedicate my energy to my favorite aspect of the job: connection. As dental hygienists, we have countless opportunities for connection, whether within the dental office or out in the community.

The primary reason I chose dental hygiene as a career was to serve and make a positive difference in the world. It may sound overly idealistic, but I genuinely believe in Mahatma Gandhi’s words: “We find ourselves when we lose ourselves in the service of others.” Nothing brings me more joy than living in alignment with this principle.

One of the most significant ways we can serve our patients is by providing them with a positive dental experience. The easiest way to achieve this is by preventing negative experiences. As specialists in preventive care, dental hygienists are in the perfect position to do just that.

By empowering our patients to develop healthy and lasting habits, we can help them avoid dental issues and build a strong foundation for the future. This is especially crucial for our pediatric patients, who are particularly vulnerable and facing increasing rates of decay. If left untreated, this decay can lead to pain and trauma.

Unfortunately, as many as one in five children experience dental anxiety, resulting in avoidance of dental visits, poor oral hygiene, and, ultimately, more tooth decay. It’s a harmful cycle that can be broken when we intentionally approach each child with positivity and connection.

What lessons did you learn while working as a temp?

Throughout my 5 years of full-time temporary work in dental offices across Seattle, Washington, and London, I had the opportunity to meet numerous incredible dental professionals and establish lifelong friendships. As a community, we have big hearts, prioritize the well-being of our patients, and are always eager to serve. Dental professionals are, without a doubt, my favorite kind of people.

During my time as a temp, I learned invaluable lessons. Here are my top three takeaways: prioritize the patient, explore different dental specialties to discover your passion, and recognize that providing comprehensive care requires a team effort.

1Always keep your focus on the patient and their experience. Working as a temp hygienist, I distanced myself from any potential office politics, allowing me to concentrate fully on my purpose as a dental hygienist. Ultimately, it all comes down to patients and the experience they have. We shape their relationship with dental care and oral health, which, in turn, affects their overall well-being. Our role as dental hygienists is tremendously important and impactful.

By prioritizing my patients, I ensured they felt well taken care of, which, in turn, left the dental offices satisfied with the service. As a result, I was honored with the title of Seattle’s Temp Dental Hygienist of the Year for 2 consecutive years and had the pleasure of working repeatedly with the offices I loved.

2Exploring different dental specialties helps you discover your passion. Dentistry offers various areas of specialization: pediatrics, periodontics, prosthodontics, family practice, mobile dentistry, and community outreach, to name a few. As a full-time temp, I had the unique opportunity to experience them all and find where my passions and strengths lie.

Don’t get me wrong! It was eye-opening, and I loved my patients, but I couldn’t help but feel like I was nursing along one hopeless situation after another. I really wished I could have met them decades before and helped them avoid this situation altogether.

The fact that nothing beats prevention when it comes to dental health deeply ingrained in me. You can try to repair teeth or perform periodontal surgery and bone grafting, but the results are not guaranteed. That’s why I am so passionate about working with our youngest patients.

3It takes a team to care for our patients. Each member of the dental team is crucial, and communication is key. I love collaborating with and being mentored by the dental team as a whole, and I believe our patients truly benefit from it. This was something I took for granted until I worked as a temp in London.

In the United States, all of our roles are intertwined, and we aim to work together to create a treatment plan for our patients. However, in the United Kingdom, I never interacted with the dentists or other team members. They always did the exams and diagnoses on their own on a separate day, and I would just do prophylaxes all day long based on the dentist’s recommendation. It felt strange to work in isolation.

I learned so much from working with hundreds of dentists, hygienists, assistants, and administrative staff in the states. I made it a point to jump in and be a part of each dental team rather than hide out in my operatory.

Tell us about your series of children’s books and what you hope to accomplish with them.

As a dental hygienist and a mom, it breaks my heart to know that the number one childhood disease is caries. Our children are being born into a world where they have a 50% chance of getting tooth decay by the time they’re 8 years old.

This is a completely preventable disease that can lead to pain and negatively impact various aspects of children’s lives, such as sleep, speech, nutrition, self-esteem, social life, and performance at school.

My goal is to use children’s books as a tool to partner with parents, teachers, and the dental community to flip that statistic on its head and create positive dental experiences for our children.

I have found that many children are afraid of the dentist because they don’t know what to expect or they acquire fear from the words and stories they hear from others. With this book series, I aim to eliminate the fear of the unknown and provide parents with the exact kid-friendly language they need to paint a positive story about the dentist for their kids. There are already enough barriers to dental care for our children, and fear does not need to be one of them.

I wrote the Tiny Teeth Books during middle-of-the-night nursings and naptime. There have been several iterations of the manuscripts, and I was fortunate to receive a great deal of support from the dental hygiene community during the creation process.

The first book in the Tiny Teeth Books collection is My Dental Debut. It uses lively rhymes and inviting illustrations to gently walk kids through a happy visit and a routine prophylaxis, helping them enter the dental chair feeling confident and prepared instead of scared.

More than 100 dental hygienists, who are also moms or grandmothers, have previewed the book and provided feedback on the manuscript and illustrations. It was important to me that the story leaves no unknowns and uses only the most kid-friendly language. With their help, I believe we have created the best possible tool to combat dental anxiety in our children.

The books will be made accessible to blind, deaf, and neurodivergent children, with the goal of making a Spanish version available as well. By creating widely accessible children’s books that feature diverse characters and role models, I hope to help our youngest readers worldwide develop a positive relationship with dental care, enabling them to enjoy a lifetime of oral health.

Alyssa Assante, RDH, can be reached on social media here:



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