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The number of dental assistant jobs has been increasing in the last few decades, and this trend is not likely to change anytime soon. 

Working towards a dental assistant job doesn’t require years of learning theory. In some states, the dental assistant career can be started with on-the-job training. 

The accessibility and necessity of this vocation are quite unique, making this medical support job quite popular. The following is an overview of this profession, and it covers all you need to know about it.  

About Dental Assistant Jobs


What Do Dental Assistants Do?

Depending on state regulations, dental assistants can have various responsibilities. Usually, they’re responsibilities involve appointment scheduling, keeping patient records, and billing. 

Dental assistants also help dentists with procedures, clean and store laboratory equipment and materials, and prepare patients for procedures. 

Duties

Dental assistant duties include:

  • Scheduling appointments
  • Taking the medical history of patients
  • Helping patients get into the dental chair
  • Preparing patients for procedures
  • Taking care of the storage and sterilization of dental instruments
  • Using an X-ray
  • Preparing dentistry materials such as fillings
  • Assisting the dentist in complex dental procedures 
  • Advising patients on post-procedural treatment and proper oral hygiene
  • Keeping records of patients, procedures, and payments
  • Ordering new materials 
  • Billing

Work Environment

In 2018, 90% of dental assistants were working in offices where dental assistant jobs are the most needed. Just 2% of the 346,000 dental assistants were employed in physician offices, and another 2% by the government. The typical work environment for dental assistants is a dental office where they work under the supervision of a dentist or a physician. 

Injuries and Illnesses 

Dental assistants work with materials and dental equipment that requires careful handling. The X-ray is a good example. 

Dental assistants are in close contact with patients on a daily basis, exposing themselves to the risk of contracting infectious diseases. Therefore, the dental assistant job description usually involves wearing protective clothing, gloves, surgical masks, and safety glasses. 

Work Schedules

The majority of dental assistants work full-time, i.e., 35–40 hours a week. Their schedule depends on the working hours of dental offices, so some may work in shifts and on weekends. 

Dental assistants have the possibility of working flexible hours, which can be arranged with a dentist. 

How to Become a Dental Assistant? 

There are two ways in which you can become a dental assistant. In short, you can do it by completing formal or informal training. Namely. you can meet the dental assistant requirements by completing an accredited program, which involves practical work, or working a certain number of hours, which is considered as on-the-job training.

Important Qualities

  • Detail orientation. Dental assistants have to ensure they fill out the correct information when doing administrative work such as inventory, appointments, and billing. Additionally, they have to follow strict rules and protocols regarding interventions and infection prevention. 
  • Dexterity. Dental assistants must be precise when working on small surfaces. The dental assistant job requires using multiple instruments in small areas. 
  • Interpersonal skills. To handle scared and distressed patients successfully, dental assistants need to be considerate and tolerant.
  • Listening skills. This type of work requires undivided attention to daily tasks. The dental assistant job description involves listening to, understanding, and following precise instructions. 
  • Organizational skills. These are an absolute must for dental assistants who need to accurately fill out appointment schedules and keep records of performed interventions. 

Education


Learning about state-specific regulations is the first step on the dental assistant career path. When required by the law, future dental assistants need to attend and graduate from an accredited educational program. 

Educational institutions, such as community colleges, vocational, technical, or other schools, frequently offer CODA-accredited dental assistant programs. Out of 250 accredited programs, the vast majority don’t exceed one year and can lead to a certificate or diploma. Conversely, the rare 2-year programs lead to an associate’s degree. 

For a successful enrollment in some of the dental assistant schools, high school students need a strong background in anatomy, biology, and chemistry. Study programs usually consist of classroom and laboratory work or supervised practical work. 

If the state regulations allow it, you can kick-off your dental assistant career with on-the-work training. In this case, the selected dental office is in charge of the day-to-day training where the experienced staff supervises aspiring dental assistants’ training. 

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Usually, entry-level dental assistants are not required to have a license, but in some states where the regulations say otherwise, several certifications are available for entry and advancement in the field of dental assistance. 

Various specializations—such as using an X-ray—call for proper training and certificates. Similarly, in the states where dental assistant job responsibilities encompass the performance of a bigger range of operations—like coronal polishing—an operation-specific license or certificate is usually required. 

The Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) is an institute that provides the exams and certificates for dental assistants. The state’s Board of Dental Examiners can offer information on the dental assistant training exams and qualifications that are required before taking them. 

Certain requirements, such as minimum hours worked or a diploma from a dental assisting program, must be met by those seeking DANB certification. In most cases, the CPR certificate is an obligatory requirement for DANB certification.

Advancement

There are several possibilities for advancement in the dental assistant career, such as becoming an Expanded Functions Dental Assistant or EFDA. Passing the DANB exam for EFDA and gaining multiple operation-specific certifications, like the ones for X-ray machine manipulation, adds to the work responsibilities and the salary of a dental assistant, as well as to their competitiveness in the job market.

When it comes to dental assistant careers, dental assistants can become dental laboratory technicians by acquiring experience in working with dentures and other dental implants. Moreover, by gaining an associate’s degree, dental assistants can progress to the dental hygienist position and become responsible for cleaning patients’ teeth.

In some states, additional exams are required to gain a dental hygienist license. Dental assistant career goals can lead to becoming a dentist, for which a bachelor’s and doctoral degree are compulsory. Other advancement opportunities for dental assistants include the positions of office managers or educators.

Pay


The BLS statistics for May 2018 reveal that dental assistants have a median wage of $38,660. This amount is comparable to the median annual wage for all occupations but is approximately 11% above the average of all other healthcare support occupations. 

The biggest employers of dental assistants are private dental offices, where the median wage was $38,670 in 2018. The best-paid dental assistant jobs were those in governmental institutions, whereas jobs in physician offices had the lowest median wage, with a difference of 18.5% between the two.

Job Outlook

When it comes to the dental assistant career outlook, the BLS projected an 11% increase in dental assistant employment by 2028. One of the reasons behind these stats is the increased awareness of the importance of oral health, which leads to patients seeking more preventive interventions and check-ups. 

Furthermore, the increased aging of the population, notably the retirement of the baby-boom generation, is expected to create a lot of work opportunities for dentists in general. 

Job Prospects

With a dental assistant job growth of 11%—according to official governmental projections—we can state with confidence that this profession is in high demand and will stay that way in the next decade. 

The qualifications gained in the form of certificates and licenses always improve the candidates’ prospects of landing a job, but in general, aspiring dental assistants have nothing to worry about. 

Frequently Asked Questions


What qualifications do you need to become a dental assistant?

The requirements can vary depending on state regulations. Aspiring dental assistants may be required to complete an accredited one-year program and pass a completion exam. In some states, the practical skills needed are acquired through on-work training. 

Where can you work as a dental assistant?

Around 90% of dental assistants work in dental offices, under the supervision of dentists, and a small percentage of them work in physician’s offices. Most of them assist regular interventions, and some may work in specialty areas, such as maxillofacial surgery, orthodontics, etc. 

In 2018, 2% of dental assistants were employed by the government. Dental assistants can also become teachers in accredited dental assistant educational programs. 

What are the job duties of a dental assistant?

The responsibilities of a dental assistant depend on state regulations and the specialty level of the dental practice they work in. 

Usually, dental assistant careers involve the following:

  • Taking medical history and helping patients settle on the dental chair 
  • Preparing patients for procedures 
  • Performing sterilization of instruments and preparing the working area for a procedure
  • Helping the dentist by giving out the materials and instruments needed for a dental intervention
  • Preparing medical material such as fillings based on instructions by a dentist
  • Conducting and processing X-rays scans
  • Keeping records of patients and past interventions
  • Performing laboratory tasks as instructed by the dentist
  • Making the appointments schedule
  • Billing and payment

What is the highest-paid dental assistant position?

Following statistics presented by the BLS, a dentist assistant employed by the government has the highest median annual wage of $42 390. This is 9.6% higher than the median wage of those working in private dental offices.

How do you become a certified dental assistant?

Dental assistants that aim to become nationally certified can take the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) examination offered by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). Additional certifications could be mandatory and may vary by state.

Are dental assistants needed?

Dental assistants have a great job prospect, with an employment growth that is expected to reach 11% by 2028. According to BLS, the retirement of baby boomers will lead to a bigger need for professional dental assistants in the future.

How to find a dental assistant job?

Checking the state regulations before starting your job hunt as a dental assistant is always a good choice because knowing the qualifications and exceeding them can land you an interview more quickly. 

Many dental assistants choose to get their national certification in order to be more competitive in the job market. The next step is applying for the job position in dental offices that are hiring. Online job search engines are a useful tool for this purpose.

Do you make good money as a dental assistant?

The median annual wage of dental assistants is comparable to the national median wage, and, in 2018, it was estimated at $38 660. However, dental assistants have above-the-average wages when compared to other healthcare support occupations, which, in 2018, earned an estimated $34 830. 

Is the dental assistant career in high demand?

According to the BLS, dental assistants are in high demand, which is not likely to change until 2028. The employment growth rate is estimated at 11% for this period, high above the average increase for all occupations, which is 5%.

How long does it take to become a dentist assistant?

Depending on state regulations and whether you need to attend an accredited program, you can become a dental assistant by working in a dental office. You should spend time gaining experience, be it on-site, or by taking a year-long study that involves practical work. 

Acquiring an associate’s degree requires two years of educational training. Moreover, certification exams require you to spend a certain amount of time on top of that. 

How to become a certified dental assistant?

Dental Assisting National Board is the institute that attributes certifications to dental assistants.  Passing the certification test will give you the title of a certified dental assistant (CAD), but you need to meet certain requirements before taking it.

Namely, you need to attend an accredited educational program or have sufficient hours of practical experience. Additionally, you need certification in CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). 


Conclusion

The path to becoming a dental assistant is not long nor complicated. With job satisfaction and flexibility estimated at above-average levels and a high upward mobility rate, a dental assistant’s career might interest many people. 

If you have good dexterity and organizational skills, this job can offer you stability and prosperity. You can also opt for switching to other dental assistant jobs after working gaining experience as a dental assistant.