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Ask any group of Dental Assistants and they’ll all agree: dental assisting is a rewarding and exciting career. The need for both clinical and administrative skills makes dental assisting a truly unique and in-demand position. No two days are ever the same!

Keep reading for a sneak peek into the daily life of a dental assistant. Find out if a career as a Dental Assistant is right for you.


Basic Responsibilities of a Dental Assistant

Think about the last time you went to the Dentist. Did someone greet you with a smile and walk you to the treatment room? Was the exam room prepped and ready? Did anyone other than your Hygienist or Dentist assist with your appointment?

If so, you can thank your Dental Assistant!

A Dental Assistant is an essential member of a dental practice. They work alongside Dentists and Hygienists and are responsible for things like:

  • Readying treatment rooms and patients for appointments
  • Assist the Dentist during procedures, including sterilizing or positioning instruments and equipment
  • Operating high-tech dental lab and diagnostic tools
  • Providing dental care information to patients and answering questions
  • Scheduling patient appointments and sending patient reminders
  • Assisting patients with insurance billing and payment issues


Skills Every Dental Assistant Needs

Beyond these duties, there are other skills required for this position. Most importantly, the ability to help patients feel comfortable throughout their appointment. This requires someone with great interpersonal skills.

Someone in this position needs to be a:

  • Highly compassionate person
  • Strong communicator
  • Great listener
  • Detail-oriented
  • Very patient

How do these responsibilities and skills play out on a day-to-day basis? Let’s take a look!


A Typical Day for A Dental Assistant

Early Morning Start

The day starts 30 to 45 minutes before the Dentist office opens. You’ll kick off the day by preparing exam rooms for morning appointments, including:

  • Reviewing the patient schedule for the day and getting patient medical records ready
  • Ensuring all dental instruments are sterilized
  • Setting up procedure rooms with necessary dental instruments
  • Making sure procedure rooms are clean

All these things need to be done before the first patient arrives. If an appointment is held up because the room and instruments aren’t ready it can set off a chain reaction, causing appointment delays all day long.


Throughout the morning, you’ll greet patients as they arrive and escort them to their specified exam room. You’ll help them get settled into the room, put on their patient bib, and ask about their medical history so you can update their records.

During the examination, you may be called to assist the Hygienist or Dentist. Your job is to hand off instruments and help keep the patient’s mouth clean and dry using a suction hose. The Dentist may also ask for help maneuvering the patient’s tongue or cheeks.

Following an exam or procedure, you’ll get some more one-on-one time with the patient. This is when you explain any details for taking care of their teeth, schedule their next appointment, and assist with any payment questions.

Lunch Break

There’s never a dull moment in a dentist office, but taking a lunch is important! You’ll stay in constant communication with the rest of the team throughout the day, and this is especially important for scheduling lunches. Here are some things you’ll organize as a team:

  • Staggering lunch breaks with other Dental Assistants to ensure the office is covered during your break
  • Providing extra help to the Hygienists to ensure they get a break, too
  • Ensuring dental instruments are sterilized and patient rooms are ready for the next appointment before you take your break


In addition to continuing to greet, escort, and prep patients, you’ll also be taking some x-rays this afternoon. It’s your responsibility to help the patient feel comfortable and to get through this process as smoothly as possible.

After you’ve completed the x-rays and your portion of the exam, you will alert the Dentist that the x-rays and the patient are ready for review.

Late Afternoon

Throughout the afternoon, you’ll continue to assist with patient appointments–– this can include general cleanings and checkups, to cavity fillings, and more.

For fillings, you may assist the Dentist by providing a topical anesthetic to numb the patient’s mouth. You’ll help rinse the patient’s mouth as needed and keep it dry with a suction hose.

Throughout the procedure, you’ll keep a thorough summary of anything the Dentist notes or any issues brought up by the patient. It’s also important for you to check in with the patient periodically to provide reassurance and make sure everything feels okay.

Wrapping Up the Day

As the day winds down, you’ll spend some time assisting the front desk staff with things like:

  • Processing patient invoices and payments
  • Coding insurance bills
  • Contacting patients to confirm future appointments
  • Sending out reminder cards

Before ending your workday, you’ll perform an office-wide audit, restocking supplies and office materials for the next day.


Working As a Dental Assistant vs. Dental Hygienist

To most people, the difference between a Dental Assistant and Dental Hygienist is almost non-existent. Both care for the patient and assist the Dentist. That said, there are some important differences between these two careers.

As you’ve discovered, a Dental Assistant’s position revolves around preparatory and assisting tasks. A Dental Hygienist’s role is more specialized and requires extensive education. This position is responsible for assessing a patient’s overall dental health, developing treatment plans, cleaning teeth, and processing x-rays.

A career as a Dental Assistant is a great way to explore the dental field and without the investment required by a 4-year degree program. With experience and additional education, many Dental Assistants go on to become Dental Hygienists.


Requirements for Becoming a Dental Assistant

The best thing about becoming a Dental Assistant is you don’t need any previous healthcare background or training. In fact, many come from unrelated fields like retail sales.

To work as a Dental Assistant in Washington, you must have an active registration and 50-hours of hands-on internship experience. The best way to prepare yourself for a career in Dental Assisting is through a reputable dental assisting program with experienced instructors.


Is a Career in Dental Assisting Right for You?

What do you think? Are you interesting in an exciting career as a Dental Assistant? At Pacific Northwest Dental Assisting School, we’ve helped hundreds of students in the Camas and Vancouver area take control of their future with a flexible, high-paying, in-demand, and rewarding dental career.

Our 12-week dental assisting program is the best way to study and develop the practical hands-on skills you need to launch your career as a Dental Assistant. Call us at (360) 818-7273 to learn more about our program. We would love to hear from you!