Becoming a Dental Assistant | Harris School of Business
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5 Things to Know about Becoming a Dental Assistant

Before getting dental assistant training, it’s important to learn as much as you can about the field

Are you considering a new career path? Are you thinking of getting dental assistant training? Here is some information to help you understand more about this field.

1. What does a dental assistant do?

If you are considering signing up for dental assistant training, it is a good idea to learn more about what dental assistants do. Dental assistants have a wide range of responsibilities within the dental offices. Their responsibilities may include some or all of the following:

  • Prepare the exam room for the next appointment
  • Sterilize the dental instruments
  • Organize instruments and materials in the exam room
  • Show patients to the exam room and help make them comfortable
  • Assist dentists or hygienists during procedures by handing them instruments and materials
  • Use suction hoses to keep patients’ mouths dry and clear during procedures
  • Talk to patients about good dental hygiene
  • Process x-rays
  • Handle lab responsibilities under dentist’s direction
  • Clean the room after the appointment is over
  • Update patients’ records
  • Assist with front-office tasks, such as appointment scheduling
  • Assist with billing, payment, and insurance procedures

Can you picture yourself handling these responsibilities? Do these tasks sound interesting to you? If so, you could be on your way to choosing a new career path.

2. How is the work environment?

What are you looking for in a work environment? If you are the type of person who would like to work indoors, in a clean, bright, and professional environment, then working in a dental office could be a possibility for you. Most dental offices are well-lit, clean, and relatively quiet, except for the sounds that some of the dental equipment makes.

In this type of job, you will be expected to spend much of the day on your feet, helping in the exam rooms. You may be required to wear a surgical mask, safety gloves, safety glasses, and other protective clothing to help prevent you and the patients from passing any infections or illnesses to one another. You may also be asked to work in the front office, where you would be seated at the computer.

3. How do you become a dental assistant?

Depending on the state where you would like to work, there may or may not be formal training requirements for your education. The Dental Assistant National Board website provides a description of each state’s requirements. Be sure to check your state’s requirements before signing up for a dental assistant training program. You want to be sure that your program will be sufficient to qualify you for jobs in your state.

What if your state has no educational requirements? Does that mean you can become a dental assistant with no training at all? Technically, yes. Some employers will hire assistants without formal training, and provide them with training on the job. But most likely, employers will want to see that you have had some training in the field.

There are several options for pursuing training. Many community colleges have training programs that typically take one or two years to complete. There are also private schools that offer career-focused training. These programs can often be completed in one year or less. If you enroll in a program, the training will most likely include topics such as dental anatomy, dental terminology, dental instruments, clinical procedures, office procedures, and lab work.

4. How much do dental assistants make?

Wages and salaries for dental assistants can vary depending on factors such as the region where you live and your level of experience. One good resource for getting an approximate understanding of how much money dental assistants make is the Occupational Outlook Handbook, published by the U.S. Department of Labor. This handbook provides the median annual wage for dental assistants in the U.S.

Another way to research dental assistant salaries is to search job ads in your area. Sometimes job advertisements will include the hourly wage for the position, and this helps to give you an idea of what you may be capable of earning once you get your training.

5. How is the job outlook?

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the job outlook for dental assistants is positive. The handbooks states, “Employment of dental assistants is projected to grow 25 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations.”

The handbook goes on to say that, “Ongoing research linking oral health and general health will likely continue to increase the demand for preventive dental services. Dentists will continue to hire more dental assistants to complete routine tasks, allowing the dentist to see more patients in their practice and to spend their time on more complex procedures. As dental practices grow, more dental assistants will be needed.” The handbook also suggests that the large baby-boom generation will cause an increased need for dental care, as this population ages and needs more dental work.

We hope that this information has helped you think about planning your new career and whether a career in dental assisting is a good fit for you. Starting a new career path is an important decision in your life. It’s a good idea to learn as much as you can about the career before you start your training, so that you can be sure that you are making a decision that makes sense for you.