Thinking about a dental assistant career? Lots of people are heading back to school to take advantage of an education and possibly raise their earning potential – while also settling into a more satisfying job. Want both the comfort of a great career and the potential of earning a solid paycheck? Becoming a dental assistant might be the ideal healthcare path for you.
But what does it even mean to be a dental assistant? You've probably met your share at dental offices, but do you know what a day in the life of a dental assistant is like?
The day-to-day responsibilities
The fact is, dental assistant duties will change from practice to practice and state to state. In some offices, dental assistants may work exclusively with patients. In others, they may assist in office operations. Sometimes they'll be responsible for both.
When a dental assistant arrives at the office in the morning, he or she may take care of some management tasks, such as filing, appointment scheduling and confirmation calling. He or she will then prepare exam and operative rooms as well as clean, disinfect and sterilize instruments.
As patients arrive, the dental assistant may greet them and bring them to an exam room. A medical history may be taken and then the assistant will assist the dentist in operative procedures using four handed dentistry. A dental assistant may remove sutures following dental surgery or apply anesthetic to the gums pre-surgery. In some states, a dental assistant may also put anti-cavity fluoride on patients' teeth. Once treatment is complete, a dental assistant may educate the patient on the prescribed care.
One of the more interesting parts of a dental assistant's day may be taking and processing X-rays. This involves positioning the X-ray in the patient’s mouth and depending on the office, may involve developing the X-ray film or processing the digital X-ray. Some offices use digital and some use analog x-rays. Training programs may include instruction on how to use both methods.
Dental assistants may also have laboratory duties. A lab is where an assistant makes plaster casts from teeth impressions or polish dentures.
How to become a dental assistant
Becoming a dental assistant will vary from state to state. One path to becoming a dental assistant is to first earn a diploma from an accredited school. Some states, such as Florida, also require a dental assistant to have an EFDA certificate and be trained in what is called expanded functions. EFDA stands for Expanded Functions Dental Assistant.
Tasks that are considered expanded functions (in Florida) include applying topical anesthetic, polishing crowns to remove stains, removing surgical dressings and removing sutures. Programs that include expanded functions training will take up to one year to complete.
What makes a good dental assistant?
Like any healthcare field, a dental assistant career requires a person with particular talents. First and foremost, you need to have excellent interpersonal and patient care skills. Being an effective verbal and written communicator are important as well as being organized. Dental assistants work very closely with patients, and having the ability to show compassion, patience and listening to others are important.
A dental office can be fast paced so being organized and able to multitask are important. Dentists will give orders so assistants must be able to follow directions and anticipate what comes next. A dependable employee who shows up to work on time, has a positive attitude and is dressed appropriately can be very valuable to a dental practice!
What are the career prospects and potential for growth?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for a dental assistant is $35,980 per year. And dental assistant job prospects look good, with employment expected to grow by 18 percent between 2014 and 2024 – which is a lot faster than most other occupations.
The BLS noted that preventative dental services will likely continue to increase in demand and dentists will need to hire more assistants to keep up. Furthermore, the baby-boomer population is aging, and the modern expectation for dental health is that more people will get to keep their original teeth into old age. The maintenance and treatment for this generation alone will likely increase the demand for dental assistants.
Dental assistants have a variety of work environments to choose from, including specialty dental practices, insurance companies, laboratories, dental supply companies and schools employ assistants. Depending on schooling and job experience, advancements to office manager, dental corporate trainer or positions in with dental products manufacturers may be open to assistants.
Whatever your future holds in the dental field, getting your degree as a dental assistant is a great step.
Originally posted: February 12, 2016 25, 2015
Last updated: December 9, 2017