Dental Assistant Career Overview

A dental assistant is a person who handles various tasks, ranging from secondary patient care (assisting the dentist in the course of tooth extraction, dental surgery, and the like) to taking x-rays, keeping records on patients, and helping to schedule appointments.

Dental assistants are practically guaranteed to work full time, and for an excellent salary. The position of dental assistant is an excellent one for people who enjoy working in a professional environment, particularly with the public. The position does require great dedication, patience, and endurance, but the rewards are correspondingly great.

Dental Assistant Job Description:

Why Every Dentist Needs A Dental Assistant:

Dental AssistantA dental assistant is a vitally important person in every dentist’s office, as they fulfill a role that corresponds very closely to that of a nurse during a surgical operation. The assistant is necessary for many reasons, including:

  • Preparing the tools the dentist will need for the operation, and handing the dentist these tools while he or she performs the operation.
  • Helping the dentist prepare the patient for dental surgery
  • Providing anesthesia to the patient.
  • Holding the suction device during an examination or tooth extraction.
  • Taking dental x-rays.
  • Taking molds of the patient’s teeth.

A dental assistant performs many tasks that allow the dentist to focus on other, more intricate details. In essence, the assistant is the dentist’s extra pair of hands that allows him or her more flexibility and freedom of movement during a very important operation or procedure.

The occupation of a dental assistant is different from that of a dental hygienist, whose task is to help the dentist clear away the decayed areas of a patient’s teeth, as well as sterilizing the area before and after a dental operation.

What Is The Work Environment Like For A Dental Assistant?

Dental AssistantMost people in this career will work full time at a dentist’s office. A few will work part time. Work hours usually follow normal office and banking hours, from roughly 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. However, there are always exceptions. Some individuals will be hired to work evening or weekend hours as needed.

The job is not a particularly strenuous occupation. A dental assistant may be required to do some lifting of dental or x-ray equipment, though this will not amount to much. However, there are safety risks associating with working closely with x-ray equipment, so that persons employed in this profession will need to receive special training in order to avoid any potential injuries.

Dental assistants will be required to wear special safety equipment, including but not limited to:

  • Protective clothing (usually standard medical garb).
  • Surgical masks.
  • Gloves.
  • Safety glasses.

How To Become A Dental Assistant:

What Kind Of Education Will A Dentist’s Assistant Require?

Dental AssistantMost states will require an aspiring assistant to graduate from an accredited program, and then pass a special state sponsored examination. An accredited program will usually be offered by a vocational institution or a community college. Most programs will last for a year, after which a certificate or diploma will be awarded. Some programs may last 2 years, after which an associate’s degree will be awarded.

There are a number of prerequisites which many colleges will require before a person will be accepted into the program. These will vary from state to state, but most will insist upon the individual having a mastery of the English language, advanced communication skills, and computer literacy.

A basic knowledge of computer skills will help a prospective assistant with their day to day record keeping tasks, while excellent language and human communication skills will help them to soothe and calm anxious or panicking patients.

What Type Of Certification Is Required?

As mentioned above, most states will require that an aspiring dental assistant receive official certification. However, the exact certification requirements will vary from state to state.

In order to obtain their due certification, a dental assistant must be able to pass the CDA (Certified Dental Assistant) examination that is administered by the DANB (Dental Assisting National Board).

In order to qualify for the privilege of taking this examination, the individual seeking to do so must hold a high school diploma, must have graduated from an accredited program at a college or vocational school, and must have completed the required number of on the job training hours. Applicants for this position will also need to hold current certification in CPR.

What Type Of Personality Is Best Suited For This Occupation?

The type of personality that will generally be best suited for this particular occupation is one that has the following traits and skills:

  • Empathy skills. Patients who come to a dentist’s office are dealing with all sorts of stress, including nervousness and fear. An ability to empathize with, and calm the emotions of patients, is a required skill, similar to a doctor’s “beside manner”.
  • Attention to detail. A person in this occupation will need to possess the ability to memorize and adhere to procedural etiquette, rules, and protocol which can demand extreme attention to detail.
  • Ability to pay attention. Persons in this line of work must possess superior listening skills, and the general ability to pay attention to the dentist, co-workers, and patients.
  • Ability to organize and keep track of records, tools, and appointments.Much of the work a person in this occupation performs will be of an organizational nature. This will include keeping track of dental records, patient’s appointments, billing statements, and the like.

Dental Assistant Salary:

How Much Does A Dental Assistant Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary for persons in this profession was estimated at $34,500. However, many assistants were earning in excess of $47,580. Salaries will vary according to location, as well as the specific office or dental center that an individual works in.

An assistant working in a local dentist’s office in South Dakota will naturally earn somewhat less than one who works in a major dental care complex in Chicago. However, the cost of living in a larger city will naturally be higher than in a smaller town or rural area.

Dental Assistant Salary

What Is The Job Outlook And Growth Rate For This Profession?

The general employment outlook for a professional dental assistant is quite good. In fact, the total number of jobs available in this profession is expected to grow by 25 percent during the decade between 2012 and 2022. It should be noted this total job growth is far in excess of the national average. In short, this is one profession that is well ahead of the curve in terms of total employment opportunities.

Dental Assistant Job Growth

Why This Is An Excellent Career To Be Employed In:

As noted above, the job outlook for a person in this profession is excellent. As the number of members of the “baby boom” generation reaching retirement age grows larger each year, there will be more demand for specialized health care professionals.

In addition, there is more conclusive scientific research being completed each year that links oral health with the general health of the body. As a result, there is a growing demand for dental health care professionals and assistants.

The general population of the United States is increasing at a rapid rate. It is expected to reach 349 million people by the year 2025. With such an increase, there will naturally be a higher demand for professionals in all walks of life. Becoming a qualified dentist’s assistant will not only ensure an excellent salary, but a life time of practically guaranteed employment, with all of the benefits (medical insurance, paid vacation days, etc.) that come with it.

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