What Does a Dental Assistant Do?

 What does a dental assistant do? If you've ever been to the dentist, you've probably wondered what their role in the office is. Find out the answer here..

 Are you looking for a career to embark on? Looking for something in the dental field, in particular? If so, you might consider becoming a dental assistant. 

"But what does a dental assistant do?", you ask. While dental assistants don't have as much responsibility as dentists, they are still very much involved in the treatment of patients. 

Looking for more info about being a dental assistant? Then read on! 

What Does a Dental Assistant Do?

Dental assistants have a wide variety of duties. Not only are they responsible for prepping patients before appointments, but they're also responsible for taking notes and recording dental information.

Other responsibilities of dental assistants include patient scheduling, communicating important information to dental professionals, and entering relevant data into computer software. In other words, dental assistants are jacks of all trades. They are the utility men and women of dental offices.

Make note that dental assistants are not the same as dental hygienists. Dental hygienists are more directly involved in the teeth cleaning and assessment process, removing plaque and tartar from patients' teeth, carrying out x-rays, and other such tasks. 

As far as the dental professional hierarchy goes, the dental assistant is at the bottom. This isn't to say that his or her job is invaluable. It's just that his or her responsibilities are not as directly related to patient care. 

Dental Assistant Skills List 

Dental assistants require a number of skills in order to perform their jobs optimally. The most important of these skills will be reviewed below. 

People Skills

As a dental assistant, you will be speaking with patients throughout your entire workday. Not only will you be expected to take patients back to their respective rooms, but you will also be expected to communicate with them during the entirety of their appointments. 

And your job isn't just to communicate with patients. Your job is to make them feel comfortable and relaxed. To accomplish this, you will need superb people skills. 

If you're shy or untalkative, becoming a dental assistant might not be the best option for you. After all, you have to be able to carry on full conversations with various individuals over the span of an 8-hour work day.
 
Dental Skills 

While dental assistants aren't expected to be anywhere near as skilled in dentistry as dentists, they are still expected to possess some dental skills. After all, they're directly involved in patient care, sitting beside patients throughout the duration of their appointments. 

As a dental assistant, you will assist in teeth cleanings, cavity fillings, crown applications, and dental impressions, to name just a few procedures. You might even be expected to take tooth x-rays. 

This is why getting your certification is so important. Taking classes will fill you with the knowledge and experience needed to perform your responsibilities properly. 

Administrative Skills 

Administrative skills are also hugely important for dental assistants to possess as they will be expected to perform a wide variety of administrative tasks throughout the course of their workday. 

Not only will you need to be able to communicate with patients on the phone, but you must also possess data entry ability. You'll be doing everything from entering tooth information into a computer to scheduling appointments, figuring out billing issues, and more. 

While the amount of administrative work you have to do will depend on the office at which you work, you can expect to do at least a little. 

How to Become a Dental Assistant 

Now, we're going to discuss how to become a dental assistant.

While becoming a dental assistant is nothing like becoming a dentist, it still involves a bit of work. Post-secondary education of some kind is almost always required and can take a few years to complete. We'll get into the specifics below. 

Graduate from High School

First and foremost, if you want to be a dental assistant, you must graduate from high school. A high school diploma or, at the very least, a GED will be expected by essentially every dental office in the United States. 

Not to mention, it will likely be needed in order for you to obtain your dental assistant certification.

Pass a Certification Course

While not all states do, most states require dental assistants to obtain certification before becoming employed as dental assistants. This certification shows that a dental assistant has the chops and knowledge to assist in dental work and is, therefore, considered to be quite valuable by dental offices. 

The most common place for a person to obtain their dental assistant certification is at a community college. However, some vocational or trade schools will offer this certification as well. 

There are both 1 and 2-year programs available. A 1-year program will result in your obtaining your certificate. A 2-year program will result in your obtaining both your certificate and your associate's degree. 

Note, however, that the majority of dental assistant certification programs last just 1 year. When choosing a program, make sure it has been accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation, also known as CODA. 

During your training, you will complete both classroom and lab work. Along the way, you'll learn about everything from teeth to gums, dental tools, standard operating practices, and more. You will also be made to work under direct supervision.

If you live in a state which doesn't require you to obtain certification, you will instead learn these things on the job. 

Apply for Jobs 

Once you've obtained your certification, you can start applying for jobs. Generally, you'll be able to find dental assistant jobs in your geographical area. However, if you live in a small town with only a few dental offices, this could pose a challenge.

Cities almost always have dental assistant positions open. You just need to apply for as many as possible and see what you can get. Applying consistently for a long enough time will eventually land you the job you seek. 

It's also important to note that most dental offices expect you to be drug-free and have a clean background. Regardless of where you apply, you will likely be expected to pass a background check and drug test. 

Learn on the Job

Often times, individuals will become dental assistants so that they can climb the ladder later in their careers. Many dental hygienists and some dentists have started out as dental assistants, learning valuable information on the job. 

If you have a desire to someday be a hygienist or dentist, starting out as a dental assistant wouldn't be a bad idea. It's a great way to get your foot in the door of the dental world.

Dental Assistant Job Outlook 

At the present time, the job outlook for dental assistant looks very promising. In fact, growth for this profession is far greater than the average for all other careers, as it is expected to grow by 19% from 2016 to 2026. 

The reason for this growth? More and more people are beginning to see the value of good oral health. They realize that by going to the dentist on a regular basis, they will maintain their teeth and gums, and therefore, the rest of their bodies as well. 

Dentists are responding to this change by opening more and more dental offices. The more dental offices that exist, the more dental assistant job openings there will be. 

So, if you're concerned about future job security, you can rest easy. These jobs will be plentiful for the foreseeable future. 

Dental Assistant Salary 

Now, you might be wondering what dental assistants stand to make in terms of money. After all, that's what getting a job is all about, right? 

While figures will vary depending on the office in which you work and the area in which you live, you can expect to make somewhere between $31,000 and $42,000. As of May 2018, the median salary for dental assistants is $38,660.

Note, however, that you will likely receive benefits in addition to this salary. Health insurance, 401K, and time-off pay are just a few of the benefits you can expect to receive. In many cases, dental assistants will receive dental insurance as well.

Find More Valuable Information with Us

And there it is, the answer to the question of "what does a dental assistant do?". As you can see, while dental assistants don't make the biggest salaries, they do perform very rewarding work. If you're in need of a career, this is a decent one to pursue. 

Looking for other valuable information? If so, you can find it here on our blog. We have info on everything from careers to travel to business and more. 
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