The Scoop on Dental Assistants

Dental Assistants shouldn't be confused with Dental Hygienists.

This is the entry level job at the Dentist's office. A Dental Assistant does preparation and assistance, allowing the Dentist even more time to devote complex procedures that really need their attention. Since job growth in the Dental industry is supposed to grow with the population, the job prospects here should be very good.

What in the World Does a Dental Assistant Do?

Dental Assistants do different jobs in a dental setting than a Hygienist. Where Hygienist are more independent in providing cleaning, Dental Assistants do more assisting than actual patient care. If you're working under a Dentist as a Dental Assistant, you might be getting patients comfortable in the chair before a procedure, getting out the instruments and setting up the room. During the procedure, you would be handling instruments that need to be placed in the Dentist's hand at their request, washing out the patient's mouth and keeping them comfortable during the procedure. Afterwards, you would be charged with helping the patient get up out of the chair and offering them instructions on how to care for themselves after a procedure.

Sometimes, instead of helping with a procedure, a Dental Assistant does leg work to get ready for procedures. An Assistant might have to prepare impressions of a patient's mouth, do some lab work, or get another room ready for the next patient.

A Dental Assistant is allowed to remove sutures, give non-injectable anesthetic, and take X-Rays. This job is the most broad-ranging job in the Dental Industry because it supports everyone in the office to do their more specific jobs.

What Kind of Training do I need (A.K.A. - Will I have to go to School?)

The path you can take for training as a Dental Assistant has more forks in it than a Thanksgiving Turkey. You can, and many do, learn through on-the-job training. This is especially popular amongst those who are going to Dental Hygienist School or Dental School and who want to learn on the job while they go to school. You can go to a 1-year training program at a vocational or technical school, a training program offered by a hospital, or you can go to a community or junior college and get your Associate's Degree (2 years.)

Since the paths are so varied, you really need to plan how far you want to go in the Dental Industry. Some States require you to get a license to work as a Dental Assistant, but not all, so be sure to check with your State Dental Board. If you indeed need a license, then you typically have to take a written test and a "skills" exam to get licensed. Once you get it, you are free to work, but make sure you know how much continuing education you need to renew your license.

How Do I get One of These Jobs Anyways?

Always go where the Dentists are - that's what I always say! Most Dentists work in private practice, so you could easily hop around and check out local dental offices to see if they need assistants. Because the job growth is supposed to be so steep and Hygienists and Assistants can work all sorts of hours, you should be able to find a job that suits your life, family and school schedule.

If you try a larger Dental practice, you might also get the chance to work with more than one Dentist, but in a "one Dentist" office you will have more opportunities to take on responsibility because the staff will not be huge.

Advancement in this field usually means going to school to become a Hygienist or Dentist. This is good on the job training for Dental School, and it can suit your schedule. Also, you might be able to get into the management of the Dental Office, with experience, for those who don't mind leaving direct patient care.

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Dental Assistants Overview

Dental Assistant Salary:$32,380
Job Prospects:A+
Education after high school:0 years
# Employed in US:293,090
% Who work Part Time:36%
Physical Difficulty:+
Intellectual Difficulty:+
Emotional Difficulty:+

The Pros of being a Dental Assistant

  • The training can be done in a lot of different ways
  • You can get a job just about anywhere
  • You can work all different kinds of hours

The Cons of being a Dental Assistant

  • You spend a lot of time on your feet
  • You do a lot of grunt work in the office
  • You are limited in the patient care you can give