The dental assistant is responsible for helping the dentist in a number of ways. These include:
- Assisting in keeping the workplace tidy
- Sterilizing instruments
- Laying out the instruments the dentist will need
- Handing instruments to the dentist as needed
- Keeping the patient’s mouth dry using a suction device
The role of people with dental assistant careers is expanding. Many dentists now require that their assistants do more advanced procedures for the job, though these procedures are regulated by each state. Some of these additional responsibilities include:
- Taking dental x-rays
- Processing x-ray film
- Preparing materials for impressions and restorations
- Removing sutures
- Applying topical anesthetics
- Removing excess cement when cavities are filled
- Using rubber dams to isolate certain teeth for individual treatment.
Training and Education for a Dental Assistant Career
A high school diploma or its equivalent is required before becoming a dental assistant. Dental assisting programs are offered by community and junior colleges, the armed forces, trade schools, and technical institutes. Programs range from being several months long to two years long, with a certificate or associate’s degree being earned at the end of the program.
In many instances dental assistants receive on-the-job training to help them learn the skills required for the position. Because each state’s requirements vary, it is a good idea to contact the American Dental Association in order to receive the specifications regarding each state.
Because dentists rely so heavily on their dental assistants, it is also important for assistants to be reliable. People who pursue dental assistant careers must be well organized, be impeccably clean, and have the ability to follow instructions well. An excellent dental assistant must not only work well with others but also possess a genuine concern for the health of patients. Clumsiness and carelessness have no place in a dentist’s office. Therefore, good manual dexterity is a must.
According to the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, in May of 2006 the median hourly wage of a dental assistant was $14.53. Some earned as much as $20.69 per hour and some as little as $9.87. Some dentists offer health insurance benefits to people with full-time assistant jobs, and as many as 87% offer tuition reimbursement for continuing education courses.
While dental assisting is an entry-level job, there is plenty of opportunity for advancement. Many people with dental assistant careers go on to become dental hygienists, while some become office managers and others choose to sell dental products. The future looks bright for dental assistants. According to the American Dental Association, employment of dental assistants is expected to grow 29%, much higher than the average in other fields. As a greater emphasis on preventive dental health is encouraged, the need for dental assistants will increase.