Think back to your last dentist visit. You’ve probably noticed there’s usually more than one person in the room during your visit. Often, that person is a dental assistant. Dental assistants work under the supervision of dentists and may also work closely with dental hygienists. In both cases, the assistant’s job is, as the name implies, to help the doc carry out their duties.
Although a dental assistant may not be the top job, their skills should not be taken lightly. Requirements are different from state to state, but dental assistants will have undertaken extensive training and, depending on where they live, many will have graduated from an accredited training program.
For some, becoming a dental assistant may serve as a stepping stone to other jobs. With experience and training, you may move on to roles such as dental hygienist or dental office manager.
Here’s what you need to know about being a dental assistant.
Let’s get the scoop on what being a dental assistant is all about.
So, what are the typical duties of a dental assistant?
Given that every dentist and dental hygienist will have their own way of doing things, you may find that your role varies slightly from employer to employer.
Generally, though, your main duty is to assist with dental treatment and procedures. Ahead of an appointment, you’ll ensure that the room is clean and that all instruments and equipment are sterilized and at-the-ready. During the appointment, you’ll assist generally, and you may also be required to take and develop X-rays. This does require additional certification, though.
There may be an administrative component, too. In some roles, you’ll be responsible for tasks such as maintaining office records, ordering supplies, and scheduling appointments.
Who is this job ideally for?
According to Aly Brown, a dental assistant in Australia, there are two personality traits that are absolutely essential if you want to thrive in your role as a dental assistant.
The first is that you must be “switched on.” Whether you’re working with the dentist or hygienist, they’re relying on you as their right hand. You need to be able to follow instructions, identify tools, and stick to all required protocols and guidelines.
The second is that you must be calm. “You will meet more patients who are stressed than not,” says Brown. Your role requires you to be sensitive to the patient—who may be experiencing pain and/or stress—and listen to their needs when required.
What are the usual job requirements?
For those looking to become a dental assistant, it’s important to know that the requirements are different from state to state. As an example, in California, you’d need to obtain a Registered Dental Assistant license. To qualify for the examination, you would need to graduate from an approved education program (unless you meet certain other requirements).
Education programs will generally include classroom and laboratory work in which you’ll learn about the instruments dentists use, the various areas they work on (teeth, gums, etc.) and so on. You’ll likely get hands-on, practical experience.
You may also need to undertake on-the-job training in order to qualify for a license or certificate.
In some cases, employers will require you to have additional qualifications, such as X-ray licenses, CPR and First Aid certificates.
What’s the average salary like?
The average hourly rate for a dental assistant is $15.44, according to PayScale. An entry-level dental assistant can expect to earn an average salary of $29K per year, while those with five to 10 years of experience could expect an average of $34K per year. It’s worth noting that PayScale has found the majority of dental assistants are women.