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All You Need to Know About Dental Assisting

Dental assistants are specifically trained to assist dentists during treatments as well as handle basic office tasks.

Job Duties

Dental assistants perform a variety of duties that differ slightly based on employer and state regulations. One of their main responsibilities is handing dental instruments to the dentist and keeping a patient’s mouth dry and clean by using a suction device. This process is often called four-handed dentistry. Other clinical duties include:

  • Charting patients’ dental histories
  • Constructing temporary bridges and crowns
  • Explaining postoperative instructions to patients
  • Teaching patients proper oral care
  • Sterilizing dental equipment
  • Preparing compounds used for making impressions and restorations

Dental AssistingAdministrative Duties

When not working on clinical duties, dental assistants may:

  • Answer the telephone
  • Sign in patients and confirm their insurance or collect payment
  • Process insurance claims
  • Confirm and schedule appointments
  • File patient records

Professional Skills

Besides being proficient with the above duties, dental assistants should also have the following:

  • Good oral and written communication skills
  • Ability to multi-task
  • Ability to stay calm during stressful situations
  • Ability to organize

Work Environments

There are several dental work environments including:

  • Cosmetic Dentistry
  • General Dentistry
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
  • Orthodontics
  • Pediatric Dentistry

Educational Requirements

Some states allow people to become dental assistants as soon as they graduate from high school. These individuals will receive on-the-job training from the medical assistants they work with, and at times, from the dentist. Other states require the successful completion of an associate degree or certificate program. Depending on which of these options you prefer, you can enroll in a dental program at a community college, dental school, technical school, or university. Courses may vary slightly based on the school, but you are likely to take classes such as:

Chairside Procedures – Students learn proper procedures for preparing patients as well as how to position them for their exam and how to properly handle dental instruments.

Dental Anatomy – This is the study of human tooth structures including appearance, development, and classification.

Dental Science Fundamentals – Designed to give students an overview of the dental field.

Laboratory Procedures – During this course, students learn general procedures for prosthedontics, dentures, and other tooth replacement surgery procedures.

Periodontics – This course teaches students about bones, gums, ligaments, and how to treat diseases.


Certification requirements depend on state regulations. You may have to take the following:

Certified Dental Assistant Exam – This exam is offered by the Dental Assisting National Board. Prior to sitting for it, you must be CPR certified and:

  • Have graduated from an accredited certificate or associate degree program, or
  • Have a high school diploma or GED and two years full-time or four years part-time dental assistant work experience


Radiation Health and Safety Exam – This exam is also administered by the Dental Assisting National Board. Several states require dental assistants to pass this exam in order to take patient x-rays.

Other Certifications

To work in a specialized area of dentistry and expand your career, you may need one of the following certifications:

  • Orthodontic Dental Assistant
  • Preventive Functions Dental Assistant
  • Restorative Functions Dental Assistant


The salary for dental assistants ranges from $24,220 to $48,350 and is based on several different factors:

Certification – If you live in a state that does not require certification, it is worth taking the exam anyway in order to increase your wages.

Geographic Location – This affects a dental assistant’s salary probably more than any other factor. Dental practices in large cities generally pay higher than those in rural areas. The nine highest paying states are:

  • New Hampshire
  • Minnesota
  • Alaska
  • Massachusetts
  • Connecticut
  • Oregon
  • Washington
  • New Jersey
  • Maine

Duties – A dental assistant’s job description also plays a part in their salary because employers balance pay with the amount of work being performed.

Training – How much training one has can determine the amount they make because of opportunity cost.

If you would like to learn more about dental assisting, please contact us.