Career Development

What Does a Dental Assistant Do?

Find out what a dental assistant does, how to get this job, and what it takes to succeed as a dental assistant.

Dental assistants are the hands-on professionals who work directly with dentists to provide dental care. They help prepare patients for procedures, assist in performing procedures, and clean up after procedures are complete.

Dental assistants must be highly trained in a number of different areas. They must have excellent communication skills so that they can effectively communicate with both patients and dentists. They also need strong technical skills to perform their job duties—everything from taking x-rays to preparing equipment to assisting with procedures.

Dental Assistant Job Duties

Dental assistants have a wide range of responsibilities, which can include:

  • Taking impressions of patients’ teeth for dental casts or models used in orthodontic treatments
  • Cleaning and sterilizing equipment used during procedures such as ultrasonic cleaning machines
  • Maintaining patient records, including charting patient appointments and relevant medical information
  • Explaining procedures to patients and providing post-procedure instructions on how to care for their teeth
  • Preparing patients for dental procedures such as cleaning teeth or performing dental exams
  • Providing patients with comfort care such as providing nitrous oxide during dental procedures or handling patients’ requests for pain medication
  • Collecting and administering local anesthetics during procedures
  • Preparing equipment for procedures such as mixing chemicals for dental cement or polishing teeth before x-rays are taken
  • Performing basic office duties such as answering phones, greeting patients, and scheduling appointments

Dental Assistant Salary & Outlook

Dental assistant salaries vary depending on their level of education and experience, the size of the employer, and the geographic location of the job.

  • Median Annual Salary: $41,500 ($19.95/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $59,500 ($28.61/hour)

The employment of dental assistants is expected to grow faster than average over the next decade.

The need for dental assistants will increase as dentists hire more assistants to help with an increasing number of patients and procedures. In addition, dental assistants will be needed to administer local anesthetics, which will allow dentists to see more patients each day.

Dental Assistant Job Requirements

A dental assistant candidate needs to satisfy several requirements for the position, including:

Education: Dental assistants are typically required to have a high school diploma or GED certificate. Many dental assistant programs offer a certificate or associate degree. These programs typically take about a year to complete and include courses in anatomy, biology, chemistry and dental terminology.

Training & Experience: Most dental assistant training will take place on the job, under the supervision of a licensed dental professional. Training may include learning how to sterilize and disinfect equipment, how to prepare patients for procedures and how to assist during dental procedures.

Certifications & Licenses: Certifications are not usually a requirement to work as an entry-level dental assistant. However, dental assistants who want to work with specialized equipment or in a more experienced role may need certification.

Dental Assistant Skills

Dental assistants need the following skills in order to be successful:

Communication: Communication is another skill that can be very useful for dental assistants. This is because they often need to communicate with patients and other medical professionals. Being able to communicate effectively can help dental assistants explain procedures to patients and help them feel more comfortable.

Organization: Dental assistants often work with many patients throughout the day, so it’s important to be organized to ensure you can provide the best care to each patient. You can also use organization skills to keep the treatment room clean and organized.

Empathy: Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. As a dental assistant, empathy can help you relate to patients and make them feel more comfortable. For example, if a patient is nervous about their dental procedure, you can use empathy to help them feel more comfortable.

Time management: Dental assistants often have many tasks to complete in a short period of time. It’s important to prioritize tasks and manage your time wisely to ensure you complete all of your duties. This can help you to be more efficient and help you to build a strong working relationship with your dentist.

Technology: Dental assistants should have basic computer skills to input patient information, schedule appointments and send emails. They should also be familiar with common software programs like Microsoft Word and Excel.

Dental Assistant Work Environment

Dental assistants work in well-lit, clean offices. They work closely with dentists, dental hygienists, and other dental assistants. Most dental assistants work full time, and about 1 in 4 worked more than 40 hours per week in 2016. Many dental offices are open evenings and weekends to accommodate patients’ schedules, so dental assistants may work evenings or weekends. Some dental assistants may travel to dental conventions or meetings.

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.

Dental Hygienists Will Be in High Demand

As the population ages, the demand for dental hygienists will continue to increase. This is because older adults are more likely to have dental problems that need to be cleaned and checked.

Dental assistants can take advantage of this trend by becoming certified dental hygienists. This will allow them to work in a variety of settings and provide important services to the public. In addition, they may be able to earn more money as the demand for dental hygienists increases.

More Use of Technology in the Dental Office

The dental office is increasingly using technology to improve patient care and efficiency.

Dental assistants can use this trend to their advantage by learning how to use technology in the dental office. This includes learning how to use software such as digital x-rays and electronic records. In addition, dental assistants can learn how to use social media to connect with patients and promote their practice.

A Greater Focus on Preventative Dentistry

Preventative dentistry is becoming an increasingly popular focus for dental professionals. This is due to the fact that preventive measures can help to reduce the risk of tooth decay and other dental problems.

As preventative dentistry becomes more popular, dental assistants will need to learn how to provide these services to their patients. This includes things like cleaning teeth and applying sealants.

How to Become a Dental Assistant

A dental assistant career can be a great choice for someone who wants to work in the healthcare field but doesn’t want to go to school for four years. Dental assistants learn on the job, so they don’t need any formal education or training. However, it’s important that they stay up-to-date on the latest techniques and technologies used in dentistry.

Dental assistants can specialize in different areas of dentistry, such as orthodontics, oral surgery, or pediatric dentistry. They also may choose to become certified in certain areas of specialization.

Related: How to Write a Dental Assistant Resume

Advancement Prospects

Dental assistants may advance to lead dental assistant positions, in which they oversee the work of other assistants and may train new assistants. Some dental assistants become office managers, and others may open their own dental assisting practices. Some dental assistants may wish to pursue a career in dental hygiene. Dental hygienists typically need an associate’s degree in dental hygiene, as well as a license, which generally requires passing written and clinical exams.

Dental Assistant Job Description Example

We are a busy dental office looking for a highly skilled, professional, and personable dental assistant to join our team. The ideal candidate will have experience working in a dental office, be comfortable with a variety of dental procedures, and be able to work well under pressure. He or she will be responsible for assisting the dentist during procedures, taking x-rays, charting, and sterilizing instruments. Additionally, the candidate will be responsible for greeting patients, scheduling appointments, and answering phones. The ideal candidate will be a team player with a positive attitude and a strong work ethic.

Duties & Responsibilities

  • Assist the dentist during a variety of treatment procedures
  • Set up and break down operatory post-treatment
  • Take diagnostic x-rays
  • Process dental X-ray film as directed by the dentist
  • Maintain infection control standards and protocols
  • Sterilize dental instruments
  • Prepare materials for impressions and restorations
  • Perform office duties as requested
  • Schedule and confirm patient appointments
  • Receive payment from patients and process patient billing
  • Keep abreast of new developments in dentistry, particularly as they relate to the field of assisting
  • Participate in continuing education opportunities to maintain state certification

Required Skills and Qualifications

  • High school diploma or equivalent
  • Completion of an accredited dental assistant program
  • 1-2 years experience as a dental assistant
  • Registered Dental Assistant (RDA) certification
  • Basic life support certification
  • X-ray certification

Preferred Skills and Qualifications

  • Bilingualism
  • Additional certifications, such as coronal polishing, pit and fissure sealants, etc.
  • Experience with electronic health records
  • Experience working with children

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