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What does a Dental Assistant do?

Dental assistants typically work in dental practices and clinics and perform tasks in several settings within a dentist's office or clinic.

Job description: It won't bite

Depending on the industry in which you work and which part of the office you are assigned to, your job duties can vary:
  • Office: Dental assistants access and document patient records. They may schedule appointments, greet patients, and perform accounting and billing functions and order office supplies and dental materials.
  • Working with patients: Dental assistants escort patients to the dental chair, make them comfortable, and work with dentists during patients' treatment. Dental assistants arrange instruments and materials and hand them to the dentist during patient exams and treatment. They operate suction equipment for keeping patients' mouths dry and clear of debris. Dental assistants remove sutures and apply cavity prevention substances to patients' teeth. Dental assistants teach patients how to perform general and post-treatment care.
  • Lab: Processing x-rays and preparing dental materials used for making impressions are examples of lab duties performed by dental assistants. They also clean patients' oral appliances and prepare temporary crowns.
Dental assistants work closely with dentists and spend most of their time standing next to the dentist's chair. It is not uncommon for professionals in this career to work less than 40 hours per week. Dental assistants may work for multiple dental care providers or employment agencies in order to maintain a 40-hour work week.

Still interested? Preparing for your career

Community colleges, technical schools and the military offer training for dental assistants. Certification and diploma programs can be completed in one year, while associate degree programs take two years. Dental assistants also complete supervised clinical experience.

State laws may require licensing and/or registration. Contact the appropriate board in your state for specific education and licensing requirements. The Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) offers a Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) designation that is required by 37 states. Dental assistants can expect to continue training as dental techniques and technologies advance.

Where the jobs are and what they pay

The BLS reports that job prospects for dental assistants are expected to be excellent, with job growth expected to increase by 36 percent. Dentist's offices are the largest employer of dental assistants by far.

U.S. government jobs are the highest paying dental assistant positions and applicants must meet federal hiring requirements in addition to skills and education required for dental assistant jobs.

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