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What Is Involved In a Dental Assistant Career?

Would you love to pursue a dental career but don’t want to spend several years in college as dentists do?

Perhaps you can become a dental assistant!

Dental assistants play a crucial role in the provision of dental health services. Without them, dentists would literally be unable to provide the best care to their patients.

If you’re ready to pursue a career in dental assisting, it’s important that you know everything about the career before you take the first step. In this article, we’re fleshing out all the information you need to know.

Let’s get into it!

What Does a Dental Assistant Do?

You already know dental assistants work in dental clinics, but that doesn’t give a complete picture of what they do. Although specific roles may vary depending on the specific work environment, you’ll typically find them doing the following:

  • Receiving patients in the dental procedure room and ensuring they’re sat properly on the dental chair
  • Answering any questions patients might have about the dental procedures they’re about to undergo
  • Preparing dental equipment, including sterilizing and arranging them in dental trays
  • Taking and recording a patient’s vital signs, including temperature and blood pressure
  • Preparing the patient’s mouth (readying it for dental procedures) – such as using a suction hose to dry a patient’s mouth
  • Taking instructions from dentists during dental procedures and handing them various dental tools
  • Scheduling patient appointments in offices without a dedicated receptionist
  • Keeping patient records and handling insurance billing and payments.

Now that you know the duties and responsibilities of a dental assistant, are you still interested in the job? If yes, there’s still a lot more to learn.

What Does It Take to Become a Dental Assistant?

What it takes to become a dental assistant largely depends on the requirements in your state. Some states don’t have any professional training requirements, which means you can get started as a dental assistant with just a high school diploma. You’ll then learn on the job.

In other states, you need more than a high school diploma or its equivalent. You need to complete a dental assisting program, which is usually a one or two-year program.

However, as the industry gets more and more competitive, employers are giving preference to people who have some level of professional training. As such, and especially if you reside or want to work in a state without any professional training requirements, it’s still super important to go to college and pursue a dental assisting program. Any employer will hire a trained dental assistant instead of hiring a high school diploma holder and training them on the job.

When choosing a dental assisting program, ensure it’s accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation.

There are various types of courses, but it’s a dental assisting associate degree that will give you the best preparation. You’ll take classes in a wide range of areas, including:

  • Chairside assisting
  • Community health
  • Dental office administration
  • Dental pharmacology
  • Oral anatomy
  • Dental materials
  • Dental radiography
  • CPR and first aid.

It’s also possible that you might need to obtain a dental assistant license from your state’s dental assisting board. Especially if you’ll be a dental assistant with expanded functions, such as coronal polishing, you’ll need to obtain a license to practice.

The Skills You Need to Be a Competent Dental Assistant

Professional education alone isn’t enough to make you a well-rounded dental assistant. You now have the knowledge, but you need to put it to practice. And to do this, you need to possess the right skills and physical attributes.

For example, you need to be a detail-oriented person. The job of a dental assistant involves following procedures, like when setting equipment or mixing dental drugs. Without keen attention to details, you can easily skip a procedure or mix drugs in the wrong proportions, which can have big consequences.

You need excellent people skills. For the most part, your job will be patient-facing. You need to interact with patients in a meaningful way, making them feel at ease.

Communication skills are crucial. Every day, you’ll be answering patients’ questions. You need to be able to listen and respond to them in a way that’s easy to understand.

A dental assisting job involves a lot of standing and walking, so you need some physical stamina. If you’re the kind of person who prefers a typical office job where you sit all day, this job isn’t for you.

In addition to this, you need good dexterity since you will perform most tasks with your hands.

How to Find Employment

The employment of dental assistants is forecast to grow 7 percent through the next decade. Although this growth rate is a bit faster than the national average, you’ll still need to put effort into finding a job. Don’t expect an employer to pluck you out of college.

Like most job seekers, you need to prepare a CV and cover letter. You can then send your applications to potential employers, including dental offices, physicians’ offices, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities with a dental clinic.

You can also use the services of a recruitment agency.

After getting a job, your employer will onboard you. This helps you get familiar with the facility’s policies and procedures.

You can expect to take home about $41,000 annually, which is the mean annual wage for a dental assistant. Depending on your location and level of qualifications, your salary can range from $27,000 to $57,000.

A Dental Assistant Career Is All Yours

Pursuing a career as a dental assistant can be a richly rewarding journey. The salary is competitive yet the qualification requirements aren’t as high as those of other dental professionals. What are you waiting for?

All the best and keep tabs on our blog for more career tips and advice.