If you are looking for a challenging and rewarding career in the medical field, becoming a dental assistant may be of interest.
Dental assistants are greatly in demand, something that is only set to increase in the future, so employment prospects for dental assistants are good, and dental assistants can earn highly competitive salaries too.
So for anyone who thinks this might be the career path for them, in this post, we have all the details you need about how to become a dental assistant.
What does a dental assistant do?
Before deciding to embark on the dental assistant career path, you need to know what dental assistants do.
Dental assistants need to have a wide range of skills, and the job entails many different aspects, including admin work and helping dentists and dental hygienists perform certain dental procedures.
This might include some or all of the following:
- Scheduling appointments for patients
- Record keeping and other admin tasks
- Preparing patients for treatment
- Making patients feel comfortable
- Preparing rooms for dental examinations or other procedures
- Assisting the dentist or dental hygienist during procedures
- Drying patients’ mouths with a suction hose
- Making tooth impressions
- Sterilizing equipment
- Processing X-rays
- Helping patients with billing and payments
- Educating patients on good dental health practices
If you want to get more of an insight into the life of a dental assistant, you can check out this video before reading on.
Are You a Good Fit for Becoming a Dental Assistant?
We’ll come to the training and qualifications required to become a dental assistant in a moment, but before you decide to become a dental assistant, you should also consider whether your personality and character make you a good fit for this type of job.
Dental assistants work in close contact with both patients and dentists, so they need to have good interpersonal skills and enjoy working with other people. Communication skills are extremely important, both in terms of listening and speaking.
People in this job need to be able to follow precise instructions and have good attention to detail, and they also need to be able to stay calm in occasionally stressful situations.
Furthermore, dental assistants need to have good organizational skills, they need to be able to multitask effectively and they need to be able to complete tasks in an efficient and timely manner.
If you believe you have this profile, becoming a dental assistant could be the right choice for you.
However, if you are lacking in any of these areas, you might not be suitable for this kind of work.
How to Become a dental assistant?
Although the exact steps – as well as the specific requirements – for becoming a dental assistant may vary from state to state, here’s a general outline of the pathway into this career.
Step 1. Training
The first step in becoming a dental assistant is to receive the relevant training, something that can take between nine months and two years, depending on the program and the type of qualification obtained at the end of it.
Since many states require you to hold an accredited certificate or degree to work as a dental assistant, you should check your local regulations before enrolling on any course.
Also, bear in mind that a certificate that’s valid in one state might not be valid in another, so this is something else to consider when choosing which course you take.
You may also need a high school diploma or a GED, but in most cases, you don’t need a bachelor’s degree to find an entry-level job.
The training course will include learning about various aspects of dentistry and other knowledge that a dental assistant is required to have along with practical laboratory work.
It is possible to study either in person or online, but online courses will usually include at least some in-person coursework or lab work and in-person exams.
To find an accredited course, you can check the Commission on Dental Accreditation website.
Depending on local regulations, dental assistants may also be required to study other topics including CPR.
In addition, if your training program doesn’t include certain required elements – such as radiology – you may need to undertake supplementary training to receive the necessary certification in these areas.
Step 2. Certification
Having completed your training course, the next step is to gain your certification or license, which is usually done by taking a Certified Dental Assistant exam organized by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB).
The exam consists of questions on three main topics – general chairside assisting, radiation health, and infection control.
Passing this exam will give you the certification required to gain an entry-level job as a dental assistant, but to specialize in a particular area of dentistry, you will also need to obtain the relevant certification for that too.
In some states, it is possible to work as a dental assistant without certification, so again, you should check your local regulations to find out about the requirements where you are planning to work.
You can find the requirements for practicing as a dental assistant in different states on the DANB’s website.
At the same time, even if certification isn’t required, obtaining the relevant certification improves your job prospects and may also help you obtain a higher salary.
Furthermore, certification will also help you advance your career once you start working as a dental assistant.
Step 3. Experience
To find employment as a dental assistant, it will help if you have some kind of experience to point to on your resumé.
Although you may be able to find your first job without experience, you may need to volunteer or apply for an internship to get your first experience working as a dental assistant.
Alternatively, some courses offer you the chance to gain first-hand experience working before you graduate, which then makes it easier to find your first job after completing your course.
Step 4. Apply for jobs
Once you’ve finished your training, obtained your certification and gained some first-hand work experience, you’re ready to apply for your first proper job as a dental assistant.
Prepare your resumé, highlighting all your relevant training and certification along with any work experience you’ve gained along the way.
You should also mention anything that demonstrates your suitability for the job in terms of soft skills like interpersonal relationships, communication and customer service.
Step 5. Continue Learning
After obtaining your first position as a dental assistant, if you want to advance your career, you should also continue learning, taking courses and gaining additional certification in more specialist areas of dentistry.
After gaining a few years of experience working as a dental assistant, this will then enable you to apply for higher-paid positions, potentially with more responsibilities.
How long does it take to become a dental assistant?
Training programs for dental assistants take between nine months and two years, depending on the course and the level of qualification obtained at the end of it.
However, you may also need to complete some work experience as a volunteer or an intern before you can find your first position as a full dental assistant.
As a guideline, you can expect to find work as a dental assistant within around one to two years of starting your training.
What is the salary of a dental assistant?
The median hourly wage for a dental assistant is $22.55 and the median yearly salary is $44,820.
At the higher end of the scale, dental assistants can earn an hourly wage of $28.46 and a yearly salary of $59,200.
Is it possible to become a dental assistant without any qualifications?
In some states, for example, Pennsylvania, it is possible to work as a dental assistant without any qualifications. However, most states require dental assistants to possess accredited dental assistant certification or a license.
However, even in states where certification is not required, taking a course and becoming certified is recommended since it can enhance your job prospects and improve your chances of advancing your career.
Can dental assistants work part-time?
It can sometimes be possible to find part-time work as a dental assistant. However, most work full-time.
What are the working hours for dental assistants?
Many dental assistants work the equivalent of regular office hours, but some may be required to work in the evenings or on weekends.
Is it possible to work flexible hours as a dental assistant?
Some dental assistant positions may offer the possibility of flexible working times, making this job suitable for those with families or other responsibilities.
What are the employment prospects for dental assistants like?
Due to the advancements in dentistry in recent years along with an ageing population, dental assistants are in great demand.
Nationwide, 56,000 openings for dental assistants are projected per year over the next decade, with an 8% employment increase, which is faster than average.
A rewarding career path to consider
Gaining the necessary training and certification to become a dental assistant doesn’t take as long as many other specialized jobs, and the competitive salary and rewarding working environment make it a popular choice.
The job prospects for qualified dental assistants are currently extremely positive, and dental assistants are much in demand. So if you’re looking for a career path that will offer a high chance of finding employment, training as a dental assistant could be a great option.