Career Development

Dental Assistant Job Description: Salary, Duties, & More

A dental assistant helps a dentist or other oral health care provider with a variety of administrative and clinical tasks. Dental assistants perform many tasks, from taking x-rays to cleaning teeth. This career can be very rewarding, but it can be physically and mentally demanding at times.

Dental assistants are responsible for assisting dentists and other dental professionals to help ensure that patients receive the highest quality care possible. They perform a variety of tasks that help to keep patients comfortable and the office running smoothly.

Dental assistants help to prepare patients for their appointments and may even assist them during their checkups or treatments. This could include helping patients fill out paperwork, taking X-rays, or applying dental impressions. Dental assistants may also take care of administrative duties such as answering phones, scheduling appointments, typing reports or charts, and other clerical work.

Read on to learn more about what it’s like to be a dental assistant and what it takes to become one yourself.

Dental Assistant Job Duties

Dental assistants are responsible for a wide range of duties:

  • Preparing equipment and rooms for appointments
  • Taking X-rays and putting them into a computer system for the dentist to view
  • Explaining treatment options and costs to patients before procedures begin
  • Taking patients’ blood pressure and pulse rate and recording information in charts
  • Providing information to patients about how to take care of their teeth at home, such as using floss or brushing twice per day or getting regular dental checkups
  • Keeping track of patient records including insurance details and medical histories
  • Helping the dentist administer local anesthetics and sedatives during procedures such as oral surgery or tooth extractions

Dental Assistant Salary & Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median annual wage for dental assistants was $41,180 in May 2020. The lowest-earning 10% of dental assistants earned $28,940 per year, while the top-earning 10% brought home $58,390 annually.

There is a projected 7% growth in the number of dental assistants between 2019 and 2029, which is higher than the average for all occupations. This is due to the rising demand for dental services and the growing population.

Dental Assistant Job Requirements

A dental assistant needs education and training.

Education: Some dental assistant jobs require candidates to have a high school diploma or its equivalent. However, many employers prefer candidates who have completed vocational training programs in dental assisting. These programs enable candidates to learn the skills they need to succeed in the field.

Training: Most employers require dental assistants to complete a training program with a licensed dentist before beginning work. These programs teach skills like filling out patient charts, preparing patients for procedures and sterilizing equipment. In some cases, an employer may accept a dental assistant certification program in lieu of a training program. These programs vary in length and content, but they all certify that a candidate has completed a specific set of skills.

Certifications & Licenses: Some states require dental assistants to obtain a license to practice. These licenses are generally obtained through state boards and require candidates to pass exams covering specific topics like patient care, infection control and dental materials.

Dental Assistant Skills

Dental assistants must have a number of skills to be successful in their jobs.

Compassion: Dental assistants must have compassion for patients and the desire to help them feel better.

Skill with technology: Dental assistants need to be able to use computerized equipment and other advanced tools.

Employee training: A dental assistant needs to know how to train new employees, since there is a high turnover rate in this field.

Interpersonal skills: Dental assistants need strong interpersonal skills so that they can work well with patients, dentists, and other staff members.

Organizational skills: A dental assistant needs organizational skills so they can keep track of patient records and schedule appointments efficiently.

Dental Assistant Work Environment

Dental assistants usually work in a dentist’s office, a medical environment that is often bus. Assistants often have to be on their feet for long periods of time, and most dental offices require assistants to be able to lift heavy equipment and other supplies.

Dental assistants rarely work alone; they are usually part of a team that also includes the dentist. Because they work closely with the dentist on a daily basis, these professionals must be able to get along well with others. Dental assistants may have to help patients who are nervous or afraid. They generally work full time during regular business hours.

Dental Assistant Career Path

Starting Out

Dental assistants are able to set up the dental office, check patients in and out, do bookkeeping, and help dentists perform simple procedures. They work under the supervision of a licensed dentist.

Five Years Out

After five years, dental assistants have gained a significant amount of experience and have become skilled at their jobs. They help dentists set up complicated procedures and do a variety of lab work under a dentist’s supervision. Because they’ve gained experience, dental assistants are able to move into more complex procedures like dental X-rays. The hours are long, but the pay is average to good.

Ten Years Out

At ten years out, dental assistants are able to perform most functions independently. They’re also able to do more complex procedures like root canals and crowns. The hours are still long, but the work is more satisfying because it’s more complex. The pay increases significantly at this point.

Dental Assistant Trends

Here are three trends influencing how dental assistants work. Dental assistants will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.

Data Collection

In recent years, more dentists have begun using computerized data collection systems during checkups to monitor patients’ oral health habits over time. These tools help doctors make informed decisions about treatment plans, manage their practices, and communicate with patients who want more control over how they receive care (such as those living abroad).

As such, dentists will require trained dental assistants who can collect patient information and use technology to record important details from appointments; this trend will continue into coming years as more healthcare providers adopt similar systems for easier communication and improved quality of care among patients.

Increased Patient Visits

Since the 1990s when Medicare expanded coverage for routine dental procedures like fillings or root canals, patient visits increased by an average of two per year. As people begin receiving preventative treatments earlier on before major problems occur later down the line, dental assistants will find themselves spending less time performing cleanings while seeing many more customers annually due to an increased interest in better oral hygiene care for both adults and children alike.

Electronic Health Records (EHR)

Electronic health records are having an increasingly significant impact on how dental offices function, as EHRs require less paperwork for administrative tasks like charting appointments and recording notes about patient visits.

This means that today’s dental assistants spend more time interacting with patients instead of performing clerical work, which can lead to higher levels of job satisfaction and better service quality overall. Furthermore, some organizations have found that integrating electronic medical records into their practices has reduced costs by as much as 50 percent

How to Become a Dental Assistant

1. Planning Your Career Path

If you’re interested in a career as a dental assistant, there are several factors to consider before you start your application process. First and foremost, it is important to determine whether this job is the right fit for your personality; if not, then pursuing this career path may be stressful or even unfulfilling.

Once you have decided that becoming a dental assistant is the right choice for you, you will also need to decide which area of dentistry interests you most – working with children (pediatric dentistry), adults (general dentistry) or seniors (geriatric dentistry). By taking these steps ahead of time, it will be much easier to find entry-level positions when starting out on your new career path!

2. Writing a Resume

For dental assistant positions, it is essential to highlight any relevant experience you have in the field. In addition to listing your duties and responsibilities from previous jobs, it’s important that you include a description of your interpersonal skills. This will help show that you are an effective communicator and can build relationships with patients.

Since many job descriptions for dental assistants mention how patient-oriented the position is, be sure to stress these traits when writing about your own abilities as well. When describing past work experiences, focus on instances where you were able to make others feel comfortable or relate personally to them.

3. Applying for Jobs

Looking for a dental assistant job? It’s a good idea to be proactive during the application process. Contact companies directly to find out what their hiring needs are and apply for open positions, rather than waiting for an ad to show up online. This will give you a competitive edge over other applicants.

4. Ace the Interview

The main things to remember when interviewing for a dental assistant position are to be personable and professional. Maintain eye contact with the interviewer and give short, but well-thought-out answers. Be positive and enthusiastic about the position and company you are interviewing for. And finally, be sure to follow up after the interview with a thank you note.


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