November brings with it an air of gratitude and the opportunity to make sure people know just how much you appreciate them. For Mary Mendoza, a dental assistant at our South OKC office, that opportunity presented itself when we came together to surprise her with the news that she had been named our Employee of the Month.
Mary has been a part of the Dental Depot family since November of 2018, and in that time has not only grown to become an outstanding dental assistant, but has continued to excel at every challenge she’s met so far. Her peers say there are few who equal the level of dedication Mary brings to her work every single day and fewer still who pursue their passions so fervently.
But perhaps Mary’s secret to staying motivated comes down to one thing; her attitude. Thankful of the opportunities she has to make everyday a good day, Mary’s optimism, compassion and growth has impacted more than just her patients – it’s inspired her team.
We sat down to interview her following her presentation as our October Employee of the Month. Here’s what she had to say:
DD: How long have you been with Dental Depot?
MM: I’ve been with Dental Depot about two years now. I actually started as a [business office assistant – BOA] at our Central OKC office. I loved being a BOA, but I knew I wanted to do something more – I always knew I wanted to be in [clinical]. That was my way of starting somewhere. I knew I wanted to get to know the front office first so that I could have a better knowledge of everything in general. Prior to being a BOA at Dental Depot, I worked at a private practice, also working the front desk. Even then I knew that I wanted to work in [clinical].
DD: What about dentistry appeals to you?
MM: Growing up I always liked going to the dentist. I’d always look forward to going to get my teeth cleaned. It’s kind of weird now that I look back at it, but it’s always something I’ve been very passionate about. Then, when people asked what I wanted to do, I’d always say the dental field.
When I graduated I started at the private practice, then went to Dental Depot Central OKC. I did the internship program – it was actually the last program before we switched to the Academy. The day that I started the internship program, I was literally crying because I was finally going to be able to start clinical stuff. I was so, so happy to do the hands-on. We started there and I’ve always been very, very competitive so I love to do everything to the best that it can be. I’m a perfectionist in that way. I did the clinical and I couldn’t wait until I did the hands-on, it was that ‘this is where I want to be,’ feeling and I loved it.
I learned a lot through my training, but I can definitely say that once I got out of the training I learned even more. Dr. [Daniel] Na pretty much taught me everything that I know and I learned it his way. I’m his lead assistant now and we go very well together. I know that I haven’t assisted for a long time, but I’m very happy with where I’m at right now but I’m definitely happier to know that I’m going to be here for a while and I’m going to continue to learn more and more.
DD: Which of your expanded duties have you been able to take care of yet?
MM: I’ve just hit my one-year mark as a dental assistant. I asked Mari [Torres, office manager at Dental Depoth South OKC] to help me get my coronal polishing course. I have that scheduled for December 7th and 8th. I’m very happy, she gave me the pamphlet yesterday and I was running around the office in all of those short breaks between patients to tell everyone I’m going to have my coronoal polishing those dates. I was so excited I even asked if I could start my CP right after the course but she said no, that we have to wait for the certificate to come in. So yeah, I’m ready to get started.
When I first started assisting with Dr. Na we were at Dental Depot Northwest OKC, and then they transferred over here to South OKC with Dr. Na. There I would do expanded duties like looking at the lab cases that came in and here I do a little of that, but mainly I am the OSHA leader now and his lead assistant. I’ve definitely grown and it seems unreal to me since I’ve barely been assisting a year. I’m very glad that even though it hasn’t been that long that I’m continuing to learn and grow. I’m enjoying every bit of it. I have my x-rays and my CP will be coming, and next year I’ll get my nitrous and sealants. Those are my goals for next year.
DD: Do you think you want to stay assisting? Or do you think you’ll want to pursue hygiene school or dental school in the future?
MM: I love assisting! I want to enjoy it as much as possible. I definitely have more goals. Although I’m assisting fulltime, I’m also going to school online to finish my basics. Then, when I finish my basics, I’m going to apply to the dental hygiene program – both Rose State and OU so I have all my options open. I know I’m definitely going to miss assisting because it’s a very big passion of mine, but I have bigger goals and I want to continue learning. And who knows, maybe I could even do hygiene school and assist at the same time!
I already know some of the things that hygiene assistants go through during their externships, and what kind of questions they ask. I’m already asking those questions. Even though I might not being doing it yet or anytime soon, I just want to be prepared.
DD: So what motivates you?
MM: Honestly, being with a patient and having that connection, that motivates me. Knowing that they are in your hands – there is a vulnerability for patients in the medical fields because they’re trusting you. I respect that and I appreciate that trust from every patient. I feel passionate about this. It makes me happy to come in every single day and see patients, especially those who return. I like to ask them how they are and go over what we did last time to check on them. I love writing little notes about my patients, whether it’s on the yellow card or in their electronic notes, so that when they do come back, they know I remember.
It gives me a better understanding of what’s going on – not just here – but what they’ve got going on in their lives on a more personal level. I know everybody has a life, so if you’re able to bond with them on another level besides assisting – even if it’s simple as a little filling – it’ll give us that connection and they trust me more. I try to treat every patient as if they’re family. I don’t want them to think that they’re just another patient. Of course, we’re here because it’s our work, but I feel like even if it wasn’t I’d still want to do this as a hobby. I just love everything that I do and I feel like this is my calling, my passion.
DD: Do you have a favorite procedure that you like to do?
MM: I love doing every procedure, but whenever it comes to crowns or bridges, I’m able to be more hands-on with the patient. If the patient comes in with a very broken tooth and it has to be built back up – especially [front teeth] – it makes a big difference. I try to build the best temporary crown or best temporary bridge, so that when they see their smile it will help them feel better. When they feel better, they’re happier in general. That’s my main goal.
I’m able to do that with crown-preps and bridge-preps. I’ll give them a mirror right away so they can see that this is my best work, but also that it’s temporary and that permanent one is going to look even better. I definitely love doing those procedures.
DD: It’s more than just fabricating that material – there’s a craftsmanship to it. You’re making tiny pieces of art to improve someone’s quality of life. What does it feel like to show someone that restoration?
MM: It makes me feel really good, honestly. Not just making it, but sitting next to a patient and explaining what’s happening every step of the way – even if it’s stuff they don’t need to know. If I look involved, they are able to understand the process more and why I do what I do. They’re able to better comprehend the importance of taking care of their temporary crown for those few weeks. I don’t want to leave them wondering why a step is taking so long or why it was so fast.
DD: What are your short-term and long-term goals with Dental Depot?
MM: I want to keep improving on my assisting to better patient care. I definitely want us as a team and as an office to be even more organized than we are. I love optimism so I want to make sure that everyone is happy. I feel like if patients are able to see that, they’ll be happy and know they’re in good hands and want to be happy also. No one wants to be in a vulnerable position and then deal with someone who is moody or has an attitude. It’s really good to spread optimism in the office.
DD: Do you have any advice for people who are considering trying a career in dentistry or dental assisting?
MM: I would say get started if you’re looking into it. I feel like I was very interested at the beginning, but then I was surprised when I started because I realized I love it even more than what I expected. Once you start bonding with the patients and your team, you feel that it’s all worth it. Definitely get into it and stay as focused on what you’re doing as possible.
Pay very close attention to detail – in dentistry, detail is key. It makes a world of difference – something as simple as blowing air in your impressions or making sure you put on enough cement – it all comes down to detail.
Stay organized in your settings, especially for newer assistants, stay focused and think of your set-up. I do my set up the same way every single time, so that way I don’t miss anything so when my dentist is ready I have everything I need.
DD: So what’s it like to work with Dr. Na?
MM: It’s honestly amazing. He’s the best dentist ever. I’ve been able to learn his way – what he likes. I’ve adjusted my setups to how he likes it. If I see him doing something different, I’ll follow up to see why he’s doing that to make sure I understand so the next time we do that procedure I’m able to say, ‘Hey, I know you did something different last time. Do you want to do it again?’
I like to spoil him in a way. If you are able to spoil your dentist, it makes a very good team. As assistants, we’re here for them. They could honestly do their job on their own if they wanted to, the procedures would take a little longer, but assistants are there to make things faster and to make them better. If I’m able to do that, I’m able to grow and understand more, and I’m able to make his job easier.
DD: So you have two other team members that work with you and Dr. Na?
MM: Yes! We have Maricela [Martinez], she’s been assisting for some years now, and we have Monica [Covarrubias], who just graduated from the Dental Depot Academy of Dental Assisting. They’re both amazing. Maricela and Monica are both incredible, and together we’re able to stay organized and keep up with his pace. I love those girls. After work we go to this pump class together and we’re very good friends both at work and outside of it.
DD: So tell me about your life outside of work.
MM: I’ve been doing that pump class. It’s my number one hobby at the moment. It’s about an hour every single day, Monday through Thursday. We come to work sore everyday now. It’s very fun.
I recently got engaged! So I’m doing a lot of wedding planning in my free time.
DD: Congratulations! Have you set a date yet?
MM: Yes! June 28th is the day our actual dating anniversary is. We were trying to keep it on a Saturday, and the 27th landed on a Saturday so we decided that we’d get married on the 27th and wake up on the 28th as husband and wife on our anniversary date. We’ve been together about three years and I couldn’t be happier. I’m definitely wedding planning and he is too. Our families are very traditional so we’re doing a church wedding and then a reception. We’re keeping it very traditional.
I have a Chihuahua, her name is Princess, and I definitely spoil her. I spend a lot of time with her. She’s six years old now and I treat her like a baby. My brothers like to joke that she’ll forget how to walk one day since I always have her carried around. She’s very cute.
DD: How do you stay optimistic?
MM: I feel like if I’m not optimistic it makes everything worse. I know that doing what I love and being in the dental field makes me happy. I know I spend a lot of time here, but even doing a good job on a crown prep or making a beautiful temporary or Dr. Na thanking me, little things like that, it keeps me happy and keeps me going.
It’s the same thing after work – I’ll hang out with the girls and do the pump class. That makes me motivated and I know that I’ll feel better after. Because I’m doing the things that I love, it makes me better and makes me happier.
At the moment, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. The whole Employee of the Month thing – that was a really big deal for me, considering how passionate I am about everything.
DD: How did that feel when we surprised you?
MM: Honestly, it was such a big deal for me. I wanted to cry but I tried to keep it back. At first I didn’t even realize it was for the whole company, I thought it was just for my office. So when I found that out, I felt even better. It makes me feel really happy to know that I am appreciated for what I do, not just because it’s my duty but because I love it so much. I’m so happy that people are able to see how passionate I am about it. It makes me feel good that I’m able to portray that to my team and to patients.
DD: Do you have anything else you’d like to share?
MM: Just the overall experience with my team and with Dr. Na and even with Mari – they’ve all helped me so much. They help me to grow and learn. Even in my first week at this office, Mari asked if I was going to school because she saw that drive in me that I wanted to learn more. For her to be able to see that in the first week, it makes me feel good.
With Dr. Na, I had started at Northwest OKC after I finished the dental assisting program. Whenever I was able to work with Dr. Na he was always fighting to keep me on his team. He believed in me and was able to express that to myself and to our managers so that I could stay on his team. For everyone to see my true passions and in a very short amount of time and a very early stage in my dental assisting – it meant everything. He wanted me on his team even though I was a brand new assistant. That was very meaningful and memorable.
Mary was nominated by her coworkers at Dental Depot. Here’s what they had to say:
“Mary, the way you work and the amount of effort that goes into each day inspires me to have more pride in my job. You make my job so much easier.” – Dr. Daniel Na
“Above and beyond is a phrase that often becomes a cliché. Mary is focused on making each patient feel as if there are no others than them, by educating, treating and caring for them. She sets the example by always working hard and becoming such a strong assistant in such a short period of time.” – Mari Torres, office manager
“Mary is such a hard worker! She setes the best example for Dental Depot’s culture. I look forward to seeing her thrive in the dental field.” – Kali Kight, assistant office manager
“Mary is a hard worker and a helpful hand. She is always willing to help her coworkers and patients in the most caring way. She is super sweet and loving. I’m thankful for all the tips she’s given me.” – Monica Covarrubias, dental assistant
“Mary – I feel that the day I stepped into the office you were always so nice and knowledgeable about everything. Thank you for always trying to do your best to improve. You are a born leader. Keep up the good work!” – Julie Cervantes, dental hygiene assistant
“Mary is beautiful inside and out. She’s an amazing worker who is very passionate and compassionate. Love this lady!” – Samone Farris, patient care coordinator
“Mary is a really hard worker and loves her career. She cares for the patients and is pleasant to be around.” – Michelle Loyd, dental hygienist
“Mary always has a smile on her face and always educates her patients.” – Nicole Matlock, dental assistant
“Mary goes above and beyond no matter how busy it gets and she always has a smile on her face.” – Marybel Jones, patient care coordinator
“She is as beautiful as she is everyday towards coworkers and patients.” – Angel Rosalin, dental assistant
Dental Depot is a locally owned and operated family company. As such, we believe that the incredible group of doctors, hygienists, assistants and staff that make up Dental Depot are more than their job titles; they’re members of our extended family. In our family, we like to recognize when someone goes above and beyond, living the Dental Depot values. This November, we are proud to shine a spotlight on Employee of the Month Mary Mendoza.