Dental Assistant Job Duties
Dental assistant jobs involve a number of different duties, all of which occur in a dentist's office. Dental assistants do clerical tasks like keeping records, accepting and noting payments, scheduling appointments, and ordering supplies. In addition, they may also need to locate patients' medical records when those patients come in for a dentist appointment.
Dental assistants also help patients get ready for the given dentist's examination. During the examination, they assist the dentist by handing him or her the proper tools and materials as requested, operating the suction hose to keep the patient's mouth dry so that the dentist can work more easily, and taking x-rays as needed. They may also use certain materials to make a mold of a patient's teeth or jaw structure, and they may also help by sterilizing instruments, mixing cleaning or filling compounds, or developing x-rays once they've been taken.
Because most dental assistant jobs are part-time, dental assistants usually work for more than one employer. In other situations, full-time dental assistants may work in public clinics, health departments, dental schools, or hospitals.
Education and Training
Besides a high school diploma, a strong educational emphasis on health, chemistry, and biology and a basic education in office practices will help a lot once you come into your first position. You will also be taught many of the skills you will need on the job itself.
Besides on-the-job training, however, many dental assistants these days are receiving their training from programs run by colleges specifically for dental assistants, and at technical and vocational schools. Within these institutions, students receive preclinical, laboratory, and classroom instruction. Most of these programs are one or two years long and provide dental assistants who graduate with an associate's degree or certificate. At that point, dental assistants can become registered dental assistants or become licensed as long as they meet state requirements.
Additional Skills You May Need
In addition to the previously mentioned skills, dental office jobs such as that of dental assistant may also require that you have significant computer skills. This is especially true as more and more wok is being done on computers (including keeping track of patient records, billing, scheduling, and so on). The extent to which this is true depends on the office you work in, but it may especially be true if you work in a large institution or for the government, for example. Having good computer skills will give you an advantage over another candidate who may not have these skills.
In addition to computer skills, interpersonal skills are also important. Because you're dealing with patients, many of whom may be frightened by the procedures they're undergoing as you assist the dentist, having a calm and soothing nature and being able to calm down nervous patients will make you a great asset to your employer. In addition, greeting people when they come into the office and being able to maintain a calm and cheerful demeanor will help calm them even before they seat themselves in the dentist's chair. It's true that for the most nervous of patients, medications or other avenues may be available to help them overcome their fears, but if you can help calm them down even before using these interventions, that will work even better.
Landing a Job
If you attend a formal program to become a dental assistant, the placement office can help you find a job once you receive your certification or degree. You can also apply directly to private clinics, offices, or hospitals. In addition, you may decide that you want to work with the government, and if so, you'll need to take the necessary civil service test to qualify. Private employment agencies and state employment agencies will have these types of job listings available. Job sites on the Internet and newspaper classifieds may also list these types of jobs.
Outlook and Compensation
Dental assistant jobs are in great demand right now and are expected to increase significantly within the next several years. Compensation usually starts at about $14 per hour on average. As previously stated, many dental assistants work part-time for their employers and usually have more than one employer, especially if they work in the private sector. They may also work weekends as well as the typical office hours available during the week.
While dental assistants themselves usually don't advance within that particular profession, many dental assistants go to school to become dental hygienists while they maintain their dental assistant jobs. This is a particularly good way to advance into a career that truly is full-time and offers greater compensation than the job of dental assistant itself.