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What Does a Dental Assistant Do? Clearing Up Misconceptions on Job Duties

Dentistry will never stop being an in-demand career as long as the world’s population keeps their teeth (which is likely for time immemorial). As you ponder careers in dentistry yourself, perhaps you’ve heard of dental assistants, yet still ask the mystery question: what does a dental assistant do? Many people get confused on the exact role of what dental assistants do in their careers. Some think it means staying by the dental chair every minute.

In reality, it’s more varied than you perhaps ever knew. Even so, you need to enjoy people because you’re still working with dentists, plus patients. Because of this, knowledge in certain tasks is a little broader than doing dental procedures alone.

Working Alongside a Dentist with Patients

what does a dental assistant doYou’ve likely confused a dental assistant with a dental hygienist, which are quite different from one another. A dental hygienist does the actual duties of cleaning teeth on a patient, even though the head dentist does everything else. Since hygienists are still more or less an assistant to the dentist in this regard, you can see why there’s confusion on titles.

Dental hygienists, though, usually start out as dental assistants and work their way up. Because dental hygiene requires more college training, you’d have to go back to dental school for a while to advance. Regardless, you still work alongside a dentist and patients while under the title of a dental assistant.

Working directly on a patient is quite minimal under the assistant moniker. But you’re generally the first person the patient sees when they enter the dentist’s chair. It’s here where excellent communication skills make patients feel comfortable, which isn’t easy if they’re feeling anxiety about any dental procedures.

The only extensive work you’ll do on your patient’s teeth is taking x-rays or removing sutures after dental surgery. You’ll also apply anesthetics into the gums of patients before a major dental procedure takes place. So you’ll need training in understanding the anatomy of the mouth and knowing how to apply things correctly.

During procedures, you’ll be the one who hands the dentist all the correct dental instruments. You’re also responsible for sterilizing those instruments before use, and this is a major responsibility that’s scrutinized heavily.


Working in the Lab

Dental assistants also have some major responsibilities in the dental lab away from the dentist’s chair. You have responsibility in creating plaster casts in order to get dental fittings correct. This is a special skill requiring proper education and exacting procedures.

The same goes for additional cleaning of any dental tools or devices that patients wear on a regular basis. Yes, this means proper cleaning and polishing of dentures as well. Attention to proper hygiene is necessary since you’ll be depended on to make these devices safe for patients. You might be observed in the beginning, yet it’s a task you’ll likely do alone later.

Working in the Office

Many dental assistants combine the above duties with office work. While some dentistry clinics hire people to work in the office alone, sometimes the dental assistant fills in as an office manager. In other cases, you’re an office manager at all times where you’re still called a dental assistant.

If you work in the office, you’ll do all the common tasks required in this environment. This includes setting appointments, taking phone calls, managing patient files, dealing with payments, and ordering supplies when necessary. In the office role, you also greet patients warmly to lessen anxiety.

Ultimately, you need a natural affinity for calming nervous people. It’s also a career that’s on a golden stepping stone toward advancement and where you’ll always find steady employment.

Contact us here at Dental Assistant to find out more about how to become a dental assistant and the rewards you’ll have for the rest of your career.