A dental assistant plays an important role in a dental practice. They assist the dentist, keep patients calm during procedures, and handle office tasks.
Dental assistants perform a wide array of clinical and administrative duties.
Clinical (back office) – These tasks can vary day-to-day depending on the patients’ needs, and they also differ from state to state due to regulations. They include removing sutures, taking and processing x-rays, cleaning removable dental appliances, constructing temporary bridges and crowns, and assisting the dentist chairside during examinations and procedures.
Administrative – When not performing back office tasks, dental assistants answer the telephone, process insurance claims, file patient medical records, and schedule appointments.
Dental assistants work in a clean, well-lit environment, usually close to the dental chair in order to easily assist the dentist and arrange instruments. When performing clinical duties, they wear gloves, eyewear, masks, and protective clothing in order to protect themselves and their patients from contacting an infectious disease.
In some states, you can begin working as a dental assistant as soon as you graduate high school or earn a GED. You will receive on-the-job training, mainly from the other dental assistants. Though, the dentist will train you at times. If your state does not allow for this, you will need to enroll in a dental program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. There are over 270 accredited programs in the United States, and you can find them at a community college, dental school, technical school, or university. You will spend approximately nine months to two years in school depending on if you are earning a certificate or associate degree. Courses vary by school, but can include:
Anatomy and Physiology – This could be a prerequisite course, and it gives a general overview of the human body’s anatomy.
Human Relations – During this course, students learn about the business aspects of the dental profession.
Infection Control – Students learn how to prevent and fight infection in patients. This course also explains how to keep dental practices sterile and how to treat infections with various antibiotics.
Psychology and the Special Patient – This course helps students learn to deal with patient psychology. These practices help dental assistants keep fearful patients calm during their treatment or procedure.
Specialties – There are several dental specialties and students discover the various ones including cosmetic and pediatric.
Once you complete your required courses, you are able to participate in an externship at a dental office. This is not always a required part of a program, but it is beneficial because it allows you apply your newly gained skills in an actual work setting. It can also help when it comes to finding a job.
Many states require dental assistants to become certified. The Certified Dental Assistant exam is administered by the Dental Assisting National Board, and in order to be eligible to sit for the exam, you must first earn CPR certification and:
- Have graduated from an accredited dental program, or
- Have a high school diploma or GED as well as two years full-time or four years part-time dental assistant work experience.
Even if you do not have to take the exam, it is still best to do so. It can lead to more job opportunities and higher wages.
Radiation Health and Safety exam – Also given by the Dental assistant National Board, passage of this exam may be required by your state in order to take dental x-rays.
Job Outlook and Salary
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports there will be a 31% job growth for dental assistants until 2022. They also state that the median annual wage for this profession was $35,640 in 2013.
If you have any questions about becoming a dental assistant, please contact us for more information.