Dental Assistant Jobs and Career Opportunities

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

If you're thinking about a career as a dental assistant, you will need a high school diploma and on-the-job training. Completion of a certificate, diploma or associate's degree program may also be needed, and licensure or certification varies by state. Dental assistants can work in a variety of settings, including dental offices, specialty practices, hospitals, clinics, insurance companies or dental product companies.

Essential Information

Dental assistants provide assistance to dentists and dental hygienists by completing clinical and administrative tasks, such as answering the phones, maintaining patient records and preparing examination rooms. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the job outlook for dental assistants is excellent.

Required Education High school diploma for some positions, certificate or diploma for other positions
Other Requirements On-the-job training; certification required in some states
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 18%
Median Annual Salary (2015)* $35,980

*Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Information for Dental Assistants

A dental assistant's primary job responsibility is to aid dentists and dental hygienists in the course of daily work. This usually involves completing a combination of laboratory, clinical and office tasks. Unlike dental hygienists, dental assistants do not work directly on a patient's mouth, teeth or gums except in limited job capacities, which might include rinsing, suctioning and applying sealant.

Laboratory jobs may include taking and processing X-rays, creating crowns or casting molds. Administrative job duties include filing paperwork, updating patient records, performing data entry, managing finances, ordering supplies, answering phones and greeting patients. Clinical duties can include sterilizing tools and equipment, handing instruments to the dentist and setting up exam rooms. Advanced or specialized duties may be assigned depending on the dental assistant's level of experience.

Dental assistants usually learn the job through hands-on training; however, certificate and associate's degree programs at community colleges and trade schools are becoming more popular. Each state has its own standards for the licensure or registration of dental assistants. Dental assistants can also be nationally certified by passing the Certified Dental Assistant exam through the Dental Assisting National Board.

Career Opportunities

Dental assistants can find employment in many areas both in and out of clinical practice. Those interested in clinical practice can work in general dentistry or a specialized field, such as oral and maxillofacial surgery, endodontics, periodontics or pediatric dentistry. Dental assistants can also work in public health, hospital dental clinics and dental school clinics.

According to the American Dental Association, dental assistants can also find employment processing dental insurance claims for insurance companies or selling dental products ( Dental assistants with undergraduate degrees may find employment as dental assisting instructors at vocational schools and colleges.

Career Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a strong job outlook for dental assistants ( Career opportunities are expected to increase by 18 percent from 2014 to 2024, which is faster than the national average. The median yearly wages for dental assistants in 2015 equaled $35,980, according to the BLS. Benefits vary significantly depending on practice setting and may sometimes require full-time employment status.

Dental assistants help with rinsing, suctioning, applying sealant, sterilizing, preparing exam rooms or handing a dentist needed equipment. They also perform lab work, working with X-rays, crowns and molds, and administrative tasks, such as answering phones, greeting patients and maintaining records.

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