Dental assistants prepare patients for the dentist's examination. In addition, they perform chair-side duties, such as handing the dentist the proper materials and tools. They operate the suction those that keeps the patient's mouth dry so the dentist can work on it. Dental assistants often operate X-ray machines. Sometimes dental assistants make an impression of a patient's mouth or teeth. They may also sterilize instruments, develop X-rays, and mix compounds for cleaning or filling teeth.
Most dental assistants work in private offices for one or more dentists. Other assistants work in public health departments, clinics, hospitals, and dental schools.
Education and Training Requirements
Dental assistants need a high school diploma. Courses in biology, chemistry, health, and office practices are helpful. Many dental assistants learn their skills on the job.
An increasing number of dental assistants receive training in dental assisting programs at colleges, vocational schools, and technical institutes. Students are given classroom, laboratory, and preclinical instruction. The Commission on Dental Accreditation within the American Dental Association (ADA) approved 265 dental-assisting training programs in 2005. These are generally one- or two-year programs that lead to a certificate or to an associate's degree. Graduates of accredited programs can become licensed or registered dental assistants if they meet the requirements of their states.
Becoming a dental assistant offers, one of the fastest educational paths to enter the rapidly expanding healthcare field.
Dental Assistant Job Description
Dental assistants provide support functions for dentists including assisting with dental procedures, lab work and office functions. When helping with patient's dental procedures, a dental assistant may be involved with:
- Preparing dental instruments
- Gathering patient's dental records
- Handling instruments to dentist during patient procedures
- Keeping the patient's mouth dry during procedures
- Instructing patients on proper oral healthcare
- Taking and preparing x-rays
- Applying anesthetics
Office support includes scheduling appointments, receiving patients in the office, billing, ordering supplies and keeping patient records. Most dental assistants work in dentist's offices. A small portion may work in hospitals or doctor's offices. Similar to dental hygienists, up to one third of dental assistants work part-time.
Salary Ranges and Job Outlook for Dental Assistants is good. Like many healthcare fields, the demand for dental assistants is expected to grow faster than average over the next decade. The median hourly pay rate for dental assistants is $13.10 and the high and low range of the scale is $8.45 at the low end and $19.41 at the high end.
Advancement in this career is limited due to the low education requirements. Some dental assistants advance to office management or product sales representatives. Others go to school for an additional year to become a dental hygienist. Dental assisting is very much an entry level position, but experience in the field and additional education can be very lucrative.
Education / Getting Started
Several educational paths exist to become a dental assistant. Most dental assistants learn on the job, however more and more dentists hire assistants with formal training. The American Dental Association accredits one and two year dental assistant programs leading to certificates or associate's degrees. Some schools offer four to six month dental assisting programs, but these are not accredited. A clinical rotation is part of the training.
Most States require dental assistants to be registered or licensed. Dental assistants who perform x-rays may be regulated by their State as well. The Dental Assisting National Board offers certification that meets the registration requirements in over 30 states. CPR training and continuing education may be a requirement of a dental assistant.
Dental Assistant Summary
Training to be a dental assistant is a great way to get into the healthcare field. It offers a great employment outlook, but additional education is needed to get into more lucrative jobs.