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Are you curious about a career in dental assisting? If you’re intrigued by dental procedures or the dental office in general, then working as a dental assistant may be an excellent calling. 

Responsibilities of a Dental Assistant

Dental assistants are an integral part of every dental team, whether it’s a private family practice or specialty practices (such as an orthodontist or oral surgeon.) 

Unlike performing office management tasks in the front of the practice, duties dental assistants typically are responsible for include hands-on dental treatment with the dentist. 

Dental assistants work alongside the dentist while providing patient care. It’s important to note that assistants are not the same thing as dental hygienists, who are the individuals providing one-on-one services such as prophylaxis and deep cleanings. 

Types of Duties/Responsibilities of a Dental Assistant

Dental assistants work closely to ensure the dentist can provide efficient and high-quality care to their patients. Some of the tasks they will complete each day include things like:

  • Prepping dental materials for crowns and bridges
  • Taking dental impressions
  • Making bleaching trays 
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Take dental X-rays
  • Treatment planning in the dental software
  • Taking blood pressure and performing medical screenings
  • Infection control procedures like processing sterilization packets and disinfecting patient care rooms
  • Patient education
  • Setting up dental instruments for specific services
  • Handing off instruments during dental filling appointments
  • Suctioning and rinsing the patient’s mouth
  • Processing complete lab tasks, such as orders and models

Depending on state regulations and where you work, more advanced dental procedures can include things like coronal polishing, applying dental sealants, rubber dam placement, or trimming temporary crowns. 

Dental Assistant Training

Most dental assistants attend vocational schools or community colleges after receiving their high school diploma. There is no degree requirement to work as a dental assistant, but technical skills must be taught either on the job or via a certification program.  

While strong interpersonal skills are necessary for a career in dental assisting, the main goal of a dental assisting program is to offer vocational training for hands-on skills. From suctioning to taking dental X-rays, various dental treatments and processes will be covered. The goal is to equip you with a firm enough foundation that you can walk into any dental office and immediately begin assisting their doctor. 

Skills Required

Like dentists or dental hygienists, traits of a good dental assistant will need to be a people person. Good interpersonal communication and a pleasant chairside manner are important for almost all dental assistants. Being comfortable working as part of a team is essential. You’ll also want to be good with your hands and pay close attention to details. 

Most dental assistants also complete routine tasks like patient education and providing post-op instructions. Rest assured, you’ll be trained in what you need to know to help dentists treat patients. 

Job Opportunities for Dental Assistants

Most dental assisting jobs are full-time. Occasionally part-time jobs are also available. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, the dental assistant career is growing “faster than average” compared to other jobs and is in high demand. The average salary for an assistant is just under $20 an hour and a little over $40,000 per year. Considering no degree is required, dental assistants can enjoy little to no educational debt rather than take on large student loans compared to dentists or dental hygienists. 

Some people choose to become a dental assistant before deciding to shift into dental hygiene or a role in the front office. It’s not uncommon for people to complete their time with dental assisting programs, gain more skills on the job, then one day transition into a dental office manager. Some even choose to continue going to college part-time, then apply to dental school or dental hygiene school to further their career. 

If you’re interested in one area of dentistry more than another—such as a periodontal practice or pediatric office—you can search for dental assistant jobs “near me” in those specific types of settings. Assistants are trained to be able to work in any dental care setting, but getting hands-on experience with a specialty practice can make you more valuable in that specific area of patient care. 

The Backbone of the Dental Office

Dental assistants touch every facet of the dental practice. From assisting during dental procedures to checking out patients and even supporting the hygiene department, most dental assistants are known for being team players. They prepare the room and seat the patient in the dental chair well before the dentist steps in, and are often the last individual the patient speaks to after receiving care. Assistants are one of the key members of the oral health team. 

A Typical Day for a Dental Assistant

The daily life of a dental assistant is busy and rewarding. Dental assistants usually arrive at the office a little before the practice opens to help set up their rooms for the day, review charts, and go over the patient appointments. As patients arrive, they’ll escort them to the clinical area, review their medical history, then explain what’s going to be completed that day. They’ll also review any paperwork or take pictures/X-rays as needed. Once the patient is ready, the assistant will let the dentist know, then act as an extra set of hands during the procedure. After the dentist dismisses the patient, assistants will walk them to the front for check out, schedule appointments if needed, or even review treatment plans at times. Then they will perform disinfection and sterilization and “flip” the room for the next patient. It’s also fairly common to manage lab cases and ordering, depending on how office roles are set up in that practice. 

Begin Your Career as a Dental Assistant Today

If other healthcare workers’ roles don’t appeal you and you have an interest in oral care, becoming a dental assistant could be a perfect choice. At Pacific Northwest Dental Assistant School, we provide you with affordable technical training so that you can begin your career in hardly any time at all. We even work with you to help with job placement after graduation. Contact us today for more dental assistant program information.