Dental Assistant Careers

Without the help of a dental assistant, the dentist’s job would be much more difficult than it already is. In some dental practices such as those that do cosmetic work, dentists go from chair to chair doing complex procedures in tight mouth spaces. It is the dental assistant who makes sure the doctor has the right tools for the job, with the right patient, and at the right time. Dental assistants also provide reassurance to patients who are oftentimes full of anxiety when going to see a dentist. They do this by explaining what the dentist is going to do and then giving post-operative advice for care of the dentist’s work. It is a fast growing field and will always be open to opportunities, especially as the population ages and requires more bridge, denture, and crown work.

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At a Glance

Dental Assistant ProgramsOther Job Titles: Certified Dental Assistant Salary Range*: $23,000-$47,000; Median $33,000 Education/Training Required: 1-year certificate or associate’s degree Desired Skills/Aptitude: Organizational skills, attention to detail, communication skills Certification/Licensing: Certification from DANB; licensing varies by state Locations with Best Opportunities:Minnesota, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Rhode Island Employment Outlook: 31% growth through 2020 (faster than average) Opportunities for Advancement: Dental assistants may further their education to get into other medical fields or even become a dentist.

What a Dental Assistant Does

The dental assistant performs a variety of tasks on any given day. They provide a high level of assistance to the dentists. Their duties can be classified as follows:
  • Patient relations
  • Administrative
  • Procedure Assistance
  • Lab work
The dental assistant is usually the first person seen by a visiting patient. Patients are also escorted to the dental chair and comforted by the assistant. Furthermore, dental assistants advise patients on cavity prevention and post-treatment care. Their administrative duties include maintaining patient records and scheduling appointments. Some assistants may also help in the accounting area to include sending out bills and processing payments. During a dental procedure, they give the dentist assistance by arranging and handing instruments, operating suction devices, removing sutures, and applying cavity prevention treatments. They can also be used in the laboratory. These would be duties such as making impressions for crowns or dentures and processing x-rays.

The Workplace

Dental assistants work in dentist’s offices. They work under supervision by the dentists who run the practice. Dentist’s offices are typically busy places because dentists like to see more than one patient at once. They do this because there may be break periods for a patient in a chair and the dentist can go see another patient during that time. These could be break periods such as waiting for fillings and crowns to set, giving the patient a breather during a root canal, or waiting for anesthesia to take effect. The dental assistant keeps the dentist organized while tending to multiple patients. A dentist may go another patient while the assistant runs suction on the current patient’s mouth to clean out debris. Then, the assistant must run to the chair where the dentist is currently at to be of assistance. It can make for a busy day and the dental assistant may be on their feet for the majority of it.

Education and Certification

Educational requirements for dental assistants vary among the different states. In some states, it is possible to get a job as a dental assistant with a high school diploma and on-the-job training. However, you always increase your opportunities for being hired in this field by attending either a one-year certificate program or a two-year associate’s degree program. The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) of the American Dental Association is the accrediting authority for approved dental assistant programs. Certification is also available from the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). Passing the examination makes the dental assistant a Certified Dental Assistant (CDA).
*Salary Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics,  May 2012