What is a Dental Assistant?

Dental assistants perform many of the basic tasks in a dentist’s office, including sterilizing equipment, setting up the instruments for each patient visit, updating records and assisting the dentist during procedures by completing tasks like applying suction to keep the patient’s mouth dry and clean.

Other duties that assistants perform include taking teeth and mouth impressions, creating casts, making temporary crowns, removing sutures, applying anesthetic and placing dental dams. Dental assistants may also process mouth X-rays if they have the proper training, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook 2010-2011.

Assistants are hired by dentists to take care of the simpler tasks to allot themselves more time to focus on more complex work. They can be both full- or part-time employees. These professionals work very closely with dentists, and are not the same as dental hygienists, who perform teeth cleanings and examine teeth and gums for abnormalities and cavities.


What education is needed to become a dental assistant?

While one-year dental assistant training programs are common, those interested in this career can earn an associate’s degree as well, which can provide additional education. Both paths require on-the-job training, though in order to perform some of the more complex procedures, one must obtain a certificate or license. There are 291 accredited dental assistant programs in the U.S. approved by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), according to the BLS.

Those interested in this field should focus on biology, chemistry and health classes. All dental assistants should stay up-to-date on current dental technologies as well.


What kinds of jobs are available for dental assistants?

Dental assistants work with dentists as a second pair of hands during procedures. Besides this, many of these professionals execute office tasks as well, such as filing paperwork, writing reports and keeping patient records. Sometimes the dental assistant will also act as the office receptionist, scheduling appointments, sending bills, receiving payments and ordering supplies.


What is the average salary for a dental assistant?

Dental assistants earned an average salary of $34,140 in 2010, according to the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics. These numbers vary based on location, but the majority of these professionals, or 33 percent, work in dentists’ offices. A small percentage work for the federal executive branch, and even less work for colleges and universities.

Washington, D.C., has the highest average pay for dental assistants at $47,630, though Alaska and New Hampshire are also quite high.


What do career prospects for dental assistants look like?

By 2018, the number of jobs in this field are expected to increase by 36 percent, which places dental assistant among the fastest-growing occupations in the nation, according to the BLS. More dentists will be hiring individuals with dental assistant training as their patient base improves, and the number of people visiting dentists is expected to go up as they become more educated on dental care.

Over all, approximately 105,600 dental assistant positions are expected to open up in the next six years.


What are the benefits of going into a dental assistant career?

Dental assistants have excellent career benefits. Other than job security and good starting pay, these professionals usually receive health benefits and paid vacation time, work in clean environments and are required to wear safety equipment to minimize the risk for themselves and patients. A dental assistant may work regularly with all age groups, including children and the elderly. This rewarding field supplies dental education and care, while providing frequent opportunities to work with other people.



*Source Reference: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. http://www.bls.gov