Dental Assistants (School, Programs, Course)

What Dental Assistants Do


Dental assistants perform many tasks, ranging from providing patient care and taking x rays to recordkeeping and scheduling appointments. Their duties vary by state and by the dentists’ offices where they work.



Dental assistants typically do the following:
  • Ensure that patients are comfortable in the dental chair
  • Prepare patients and the work area for treatments and procedures
  • Sterilize dental instruments
  • Hand instruments to dentists during procedures
  • Dry patients’ mouths using suction hoses and other equipment
  • Instruct patients in proper oral hygiene
  • Process x rays and complete lab tasks, under the direction of a dentist
  • Keep records of dental treatments
  • Schedule patient appointments
  • Work with patients on billing and payment



Work Environment

Almost all dental assistants work in dentists’ offices. Most work full time.
Dental assistants wear safety glasses, surgical masks, protective clothing, and gloves to protect themselves and patients from infectious diseases. They also must follow safety procedures to minimize risks associated with x-ray machines.



How to Become a Dental Assistant


There are several possible paths to becoming a dental assistant. Some states require assistants to graduate from an accredited program and pass an exam. In other states, there are no formal educational requirements and dental assistants learn how to perform their jobs through on-the-job training.

Important Qualities

Detail oriented. Dental assistants must follow specific rules and protocols, such as infection control procedures, when helping dentists treat patients. Assistants also must be aware of what tasks they are allowed to complete in the state where they work.
Dexterity. Dental assistants must be good at working with their hands. They generally work in tight quarters on a small part of the body, using very precise tools and instruments.
Interpersonal skills. Dental assistants must work closely with dentists and patients. Sometimes patients are in extreme pain and/or mental distress, so the assistant should be sensitive to their emotions.
Listening skills. Dental assistants must listen to patients and other healthcare workers. They need to follow directions from a dentist or dental hygienist, so they can help treat patients and do tasks, such as taking x rays.

Organizational skills. Dental assistants should have excellent organizational skills. They should have the correct tools in place for a dentist or dental hygienist to use when treating a patient.


Pay



The median annual wage for dental assistants was $39,000 in May 2019.

The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $27,940, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $54,800.
In May 2019, the median annual wages for dental assistants in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Government $42,390
Offices of dentists 38,670
Offices of physicians 35,760 




Job Outlook


Employment of dental assistants is projected to grow 19 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. The aging population and ongoing research linking oral health and general health will continue to increase the demand for preventive dental services.