Dental assistants are trained professionals who, among many other things, assist dentists during dental procedures. They may also do filing, recordkeeping, appointment scheduling and various other clerical duties. Dental assistants are a vital part of a dental office and often spend more time with the patient than the dentist does. Learn more about dental assistants, including their duties, how to become one and what they can expect in terms of career outlook.
What Dental Assistants Do
Dental assistants perform many duties throughout their day. They work alongside dentists as they work on patients and hand instruments to the dentist. Other duties include:
• Scheduling appointments
• Answering phones
• Taking the patient’s medical history
• Discussing billing and insurance with patients
• Preparing patient for treatment
• Talking with patients and ensuring they’re comfortable
• Sterilizing dental instruments
• Educating patients on good dental hygiene
• Suctioning patient’s mouth
• Processing x-rays and lab work under a dentist’s supervision
Every state has its requirements as to what the dental assistants are allowed to do. Depending on the state, the dental assistant may perform procedures like fluoride application, sealant application, coronal polishing and topical anesthetic application,
How to Become One
There are a couple of different paths towards becoming a dental assistant. Depending on the state and the dentist’s requirements, a dental assistant may be hired with no training and receive on the job training. Many individuals complete either a certificate or a diploma program in dental assisting. These programs, which can take from 9 months to a year to complete, are typically offered at technical schools, vocational schools and community colleges.
As of 2017, there were almost 300 dental assistant programs accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation in the United States. Some colleges offer two-year associate degree programs for aspiring dental assistants, but very few take this path. Students in dental assistant programs do coursework, lab studies and complete an internship in a dental office.
People often confuse dental assistants and dental hygienists because they both work in a dental office. However, they are two different professionals who have different job duties and different educational requirements.
Career Outlook & Wage Potential
Dental assistants are in demand for a couple of different reasons according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Because the public is now more aware of dental issues and the importance of good dental hygiene, more patients are seeking the help of dentists. Dentists are also hiring more dental assistants to help them in their work so they can work more efficiently and see more patients in a day.
Dental assistants are projected to see job growth of 11 percent between 2018 and 2028, an increase that should result in more than 38,000 new dental assistant jobs by 2028. Dental assistant wages range from $26,940 to $54,800 with the average annual wage at $39,770. This information comes from a May 2018 report by the bureau. The five states where dental assistants earned the highest wages in 2017 are Minnesota, District of Columbia, New Hampshire, Alaska and North Dakota.
Working as a dental assistant can provide an individual with rewarding work as well as the opportunity to work in an environment where he or she can meet new people every day. The dental assistant is also a popular career choice because it pays well yet doesn’t require years of college.