If you’re looking for an exciting job that will see you working as part of a team and taking on a wide range of tasks every day while also having plenty of contact with people, the dental assistant career path should be of interest to you.
This is a position with good job prospects since dental assistants are in great demand, and it’s also a job that offers a competitive salary. And for anyone who wants to learn more, in this post, we have all the info you need about the question, what does a dental assistant do?
What’s a dental assistant’s job description?
According to the US Bureau of Labor, a dental assistant’s job includes the following responsibilities:
- Ensuring that patients are comfortable in the dental chair
- Preparing patients and the work area for treatments and procedures
- Sterilizing dental instruments
- Handing instruments to dentists during procedures
- Drying patients’ mouths using suction hoses and other equipment
- Instructing patients in proper oral hygiene
- Processing X-rays and completing lab tasks under the direction of a dentist
- Keeping records of dental treatments
- Scheduling patient appointments
- Working with patients on billing and payment
Many of these tasks involve assisting dentists – as well as dental hygienists – as they carry out certain dental procedures, as is reflected in the job title. Examples of this include things like sterilizing dental instruments or handing instruments to dentists during procedures.
However, another significant aspect of their work includes certain admin tasks such as keeping records or scheduling appointments, and they are also responsible for ensuring that patients feel as comfortable as possible before, during and after dental treatment.
Depending on the practice where they work, there can also be some overlap with the job of dental hygienists in things like checking patients’ medical history or educating patients on dental care best practices.
If you want more insight into what dental assistants do, you can also check out this video before reading on.
Now let’s have a look at some of the aspects of what dental assistants do in a bit more detail.
What are some of the things dental assistants are responsible for?
A dental assistant has a broad range of responsibilities and may be asked to perform many tasks throughout the day, with each day at work presenting different challenges.
However, their main responsibilities can be broken down into three main categories – clinical, administrative and interpersonal – so let’s look at each area in turn.
1. Clinical responsibilities
When most people imagine a dental assistant, they probably picture the person who is in the room alongside the dentist during dental check-ups and other procedures and who hands the various instruments to the dentist.
However, while this is certainly a part of the dental assistant’s work brief, there’s a lot more to it than that.
Dental assistants are usually responsible for preparing rooms for dentists and dental hygienists before they carry out various procedures, and they are also responsible for sterilizing the different tools dentists and hygienists use.
They may also be tasked with making dental impressions, and many will also be asked to take X-rays of patients’ teeth – although they may require additional training for this.
As well as simply handing over instruments, they usually play a more active role in assisting with procedures such as fillings, crowns and extractions – although the dentist is the one who ultimately performs these procedures.
Finally, it is also their job to prepare patients for dental procedures and surgeries as well as cleaning up the room after procedures have been completed.
2. Administrative responsibilities
As well as their clinical roles, dental assistants also have several important administrative roles to assume.
This involves answering phones, booking appointments for patients and updating and maintaining patient dental records.
When patients arrive at the dental practice, the dental assistant is responsible for receiving them and checking them in as well as giving them any forms they need to fill in before their dental procedures begin – including forms related to insurance.
Beyond this, they may also be given a range of other general administrative duties to perform, depending on the requirements of the practice where they work.
3. Interpersonal responsibilities
Although some of the interpersonal responsibilities may overlap with both clinical and administrative responsibilities, they are nevertheless an important part of a dental assistant’s work.
This side of their job involves communicating with dentists, dental hygienists and patients to ensure the smooth running of operations as well as providing a relaxed, friendly and welcoming environment for patients coming in for treatment.
Sometimes, patients may feel anxious or nervous about the treatment they are about to receive, and it is part of the dental assistant’s job to help them feel as calm and at ease as possible.
They may also be required to help calm patients down after they have undergone stressful and potentially painful dental procedures.
What skills does a dental assistant require?
If you are interested in becoming a dental assistant, you should consider whether the position suits your character and skillset since it’s a demanding job that might not be for everyone.
This job involves working with different people every day, including both your co-workers in the dental practice and the patients who come in for treatment.
As a result, you should be someone who enjoys working with others, someone who is a good communicator and someone who works well as part of a team.
Your interpersonal skills should be excellent, and you should have a good understanding of customer service to allow you to make patients in the practice feel welcome.
You may also occasionally need to deal with disputes, disagreements or other similarly challenging situations.
Since the job can be extremely varied, you need to be ready to face a range of challenges each day, and you also need the ability to remain calm in stressful situations. It also helps not to be squeamish since you will be required to be present during procedures like tooth extractions.
Dental assistants need to be able to carry out instructions carefully, and organizational skills and attention to detail are also required.
Finally, you will need to be the kind of person who is happy to carry out whatever tasks are asked of you to help other members of your team, and an ability to multitask effectively is also a great advantage.
As we have mentioned, this can be a challenging job, but if you have the right personality skillset, being a dental assistant can be a richly rewarding career due to the wide range of tasks you’ll need to perform.
What is the difference between a dental assistant and a dental hygienist?
A dental hygienist is mainly responsible for looking after patients’ dental hygiene and oral health, and their job includes cleaning and polishing teeth as well as providing education about how to keep teeth and gums in good health.
A dental assistant, on the other hand, is responsible for a wide range of tasks that are mainly related to helping the dentist or dental hygienist perform their duties.
While there can be some overlap between the responsibilities of dental hygienists and dental assistants, hygienists are more specialized while assistants carry out a wider range of responsibilities.
Dental hygienists also have to spend longer in training and education before they can apply for their positions. As a result, they also have higher salaries.
What qualifications do you need to become a dental assistant?
The qualifications you need to become a dental assistant vary from state to state, and in some states – for example, Pennsylvania – you don’t need any qualifications beyond a high school diploma.
However, in most states, you will need to spend between a year and two years studying to become a dental assistant, and you will also need to pass the relevant exams to receive your license.
State-specific information about the requirements for dental assistants can be found here.
What are the job prospects for dental assistants like?
Job prospects for dental assistants are excellent since they are in high demand.
There are expected to be around 56,400 openings for dental assistants per year over the next ten years, and employment for dental assistants is projected to grow by 8%.
What do dental assistants earn?
As a dental assistant, you can expect to earn somewhere in the range of $38,660, which was the median salary for dental assistants in 2021.
What qualifications do you need to become a dental assistant?
The qualifications you require to become a dental assistant vary from state to state, but generally speaking, you need to complete a course accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation and you then need to take a Dental Assisting National Board exam.
A dynamic and exciting career choice with excellent employment prospects
Being a dental assistant is not always easy, but if you’re an energetic person who loves working with people and who enjoys a challenging yet rewarding job, this could be just the kind of position that appeals to you.
It’s a job with excellent employment prospects, so after completing your training, you have a good chance of finding a job that will allow you to become an important and valued member of of a dental team.