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Dental Assistant Employment Information and Job Duties

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a dental assistant. Get an overview of the requirements as well as details about job duties, degree programs and certification information to see if this is the career for you.

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Individuals who want to be dental assistants, but don't have work experience, may choose to enroll in a dental assisting program. Certificates and diploma programs in dental assisting provide relevant practical training through internships.

Essential Information

The role of a dental assistant involves working under the direction of a dentist to provide clinical, laboratory and administrative support. Dental assistants ensure patients are comfortable while preparing them for treatment. They may also obtain patient records, set up instruments and perform other tasks that can make the dentist's job run smoothly and efficiently. Education requirements vary by state; some employers may hire dental assistants with just a high school diploma and on-the-job training, while others may prefer those who have completed a dental assistant certificate or diploma program.

Required Education Requirements range from a high school diploma to a post-secondary certificate or diploma in dental assisting
Certification Options Certified Dental Assistant credential required in some states
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 18%
Average Salary (2015)* $36,920

Source:*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Dental Assistant Job Description

Dental assistants work beside the dentist, providing assistance during dental procedures. Dental assistants are solely responsible for aiding dentists during procedures and around the laboratory and office. They do not perform duties of dental hygienists, which usually include flossing, cleaning teeth and performing general patient examinations.

Although specific dental assistant duties vary according to state guidelines, typical tasks include preparing patients for treatment, handing examination instruments to dentists, suctioning patients' mouths, preparing tray setups for dental procedures and sterilizing dental instruments. Some dental assistants also create casts of teeth and mouths, prepare materials for creating restorations and impressions, clean appliances, process dental X-ray film and apply sealants. Other duties might include clerical work, such as scheduling appointments, providing post-op instructions to patients, maintaining dental records and ordering dental supplies.

Education Requirements

Many dental offices provide on-the-job training for dental assistants without prior training or experience. Although most states do not require formal education to become a dental assistant, those interested in the field may benefit from taking college-level chemistry, health and biology courses, or by completing a dental assistant certificate or diploma program. In 2015, the Commission of Dental Accreditation (CODA) recognized nearly 300 programs in dental assisting. All of these programs, which can usually be completed within a year, require a high school diploma or GED; some also require computer-related or science courses as prerequisites.

Dental assistant education programs can include courses on oral anatomy, dental materials, dental science and dental office management. Labs provide hands-on experience in dental radiology techniques, dental lab procedures and preventative dentistry methods. Students also gain practical experience by interning in the school's dental clinic or in a local dentist's office. Upon completing a dental assistant program, graduates are eligible to sit for the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) examination to become a Certified Dental Assistant.

Employment Options and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly a third of employed dental assistants worked part-time (less than a 35-hour work week) in 2014 (www.bls.gov). Schedules vary, with some dental assistants often working evenings and weekends, depending on the facility.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the field of dental assisting will experience much faster growth than most occupations. Employment is expected to grow by 18% between 2014 and 2024. The average salary for a dental assistant in 2015 was $36,920, according the Bureau.

In conclusion, aspiring dental assistants can expect to be procedural support and receive a moderate income, should they complete on-site training and or a formal education program.

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