How to Become a Dental Assistant

What is a Dental Assistant?

becoming a dental assistantA dental assistant is seen and identified as one of the dental health professionals that is working closely and under the supervision of a dentist. The main role of this professional is to work with various patients and perform a variety of tasks before and after they meet with the dentist. A dental assistant will assist and support the dentist in some certain dental procedures assuring a more rapid and efficient dental treatment.

The general line of their duties will involve sterilizing the equipment, preparing each patient for the treatment, holding the suction devices, exposing the dental radiography, and passing the correct instruments in cases of procedures and other duties as well.

Dental Assistant Career Information

A career as a dental assistant will always have its ups and downs, but the rewarding of helping people get rid of nasty teeth pain is one of the best benefits that comes with this job. Having a job as a dental assistant involves a lot of hands-on work, most of the daily duties include working with patients that came in suffering from various issues related with their teeth. These professionals will always assist the dentists, and if, for instance, they are working in a dental clinic then they will also have to deal with clerical functions.

Hands-on work will be found also in the dentist’s office where individuals in this field will work closely with the dentist, having various tasks such as preparing a patient for an operation, assisting the dentist with everything that is required during the operation from handling various tools and offering the necessary support. This part requires very good communication skills as well as good knowledge towards the dental procedures as well as knowledge of the teeth.

If you do not prefer the hands-on type of work too much then other duties and responsibilities found in this field will fit you. The job of a dental assistant can also entail in a dentist office the business support functions that are needed such as filling the required paperwork, making appointments, as well as handling the billing for the business. Other tasks that come with this job are receiving and greeting the patients when they enter through the dental office’s door, possess skills related to the computer, as well as offer a professional look that represents the office.

However, there are some dental assistant tasks that accompany in general lines the career information provided for these professionals, such as making sure that all the instruments and the necessary equipment is sterilized, teach patients how to apply and maintain a good oral hygiene, assist the dentists with what is needed during the required treatment procedures, and maintain supplies, schedule appointments and maintain the records that exist at the office. They can develop and take patient X-rays, and this can also include digital, if these professionals have certification.

Reasons to be a Dental Assistant

If you don’t want to spend a lot of time with years of training, but you’d like to help people improve their lives and keep a healthy lifestyle, then becoming a dental assistant is one of the best options. The industry of the healthcare system is growing more and more as we speak, this allowing you to have your working place safe and assured, with the number of cases growing more and more.

The best news if you are an active person is that with this kind of job you cannot be bored. There are plenty of tasks and responsibilities that need to be taken into consideration when you are working as a dental assistant in a dentist office. Every day you will be required to perform various and different tasks from taking each customer to the examination room and getting them seated, up to going through each patient medical record with them being present. You might also be required to clean the appliances or to take proper dental X-rays.

Since your work might involve a private dental office or surgery, then you can expect an environment that is filled with professionalism and calm. Your working schedule offers you the opportunity of flexibility. You’ll find out plenty of full-time jobs as well as flexible part-time job opportunities.

Working as a dental assistant means also great and good career advancement opportunities such as becoming a hygienist after spending some years working as a dental assistant. This new career path comes with the benefit of increasing your annual income. The salary that you earn is also influenced by several factors such as location, worked hours, as well as the type of setting – clinic or surgery, but regardless of these specific factors there is a huge potential in increasing your annual earnings. One of the best comes with the experience gathered at the working site that will definitely raise your salary in time.

The last on the list – for why you should become a dental assistant – is the fact that you get to meet various people and you have the opportunity to work with them, from patients and up to various other dental assistants or healthcare professionals. With other words, you’ll see a mixture of different backgrounds and cultures gathered together at your working place.

Required Skills to Become a Dental Assistant

Every dental assistant must possess a set of skills that will allow him or her to perform the daily tasks or duties. Everything that they are doing is resumed to their area of work and since they are working very close with dentists and patients, these professionals must have very good interpersonal skills that usually enables them to be sensitive to the cases where mental stress or extreme pain appears to patients.

This job involves hands-on work with precise tools and equipment on small body parts that are usually very tight. For this, every dental assistant needs a very good hand dexterity. When helping dentists with patients another skill is required, and that is being detail oriented. This skill intervenes each time when dental assistants are required to follow clear sets of rules and specific protocols such as control or infection procedures.

Organizational skills are required a lot at the working site, especially since these professionals have the main duty to have the right tools in place ready to be used by a dentist or a dental hygienist when they are treating patients. The last is the listening skills that are very important since the communication needs to be established with patients and other healthcare specialists. Dental assistants are usually required to follow directions from dentists or dental hygienist in order to be able to help with treating the patients and managing well the tasks such as taking an X-ray.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Dental Assistant?

The dental assistant educational path is mainly influenced by the state in which you are working. For instance, there are states that require that dental assistants have to graduate from an accredited program and be able to pass an exam. The majority of dental assistant programs are provided by community colleges or in some other cases, they might be provided by vocational or technical schools.

The length of these accredited programs can take up to 1 year of being completed, this leading in the end to a degree or to a certificate, while those who last 2 years usually grant an associate’s degree. In 2015 there were accredited almost 300 of the dental assisting training programs by CODA or else known as the Commission on Dental Accreditation.

Usually the accredited programs include in their curriculum classroom and laboratory work. There, all students are taught about gums, teeth, jaws, and various other areas where dentists work as well as the instruments that are used by the dentists. Practical experience that is under supervision is being taught as well through these programs.

The courses that must be followed by any of the high school students that are interested in a job and a career as a dental assistant include classes in biology, chemistry as well as anatomy. In other states where a college degree or education is not required, these professionals can have the opportunity to qualify for a job just by earning a high school diploma or its equivalent.

How to Become a Dental Assistant?

The training that will lead you to a career as a dental assistant starts by completing a dental assistant diploma or a certificate program. These kinds of programs are mainly offered by a community college or a technical college and usually last up to one year of studies or in some other cases depending on the facility or program two or three semesters. The main purpose of the programs is to prepare the future graduates with knowledge and skills required for this kind of job.

The course topics in the dental assistant programs are based on subjects such as dental sciences, infection control, dental pharmacology and dental radiography as well as orofacial anatomy, dental materials, dental health education and others as well. All these topics are being taught in settings such as laboratory and classroom, and at the end of these programs the future graduates will perform an extern-ship where they put to practice everything that they’ve learned in real life dental offices. Like mentioned earlier, there are some states that do not need that a Dental Assistant to finish any college education. Everything that is required will be learned at the work site.

Licensure requirements for these professionals usually vary according to each state. If a certification is required by a certain state then it shall be done through the Dental Assisting National Board or else known as DANB. This specific national board provides dental assistants with several certifications, including the certified dental assistant credentials.

In order to become a CDA or a certified dental assistant, you must fulfill the requirements related to education and experience. To become eligible you must complete an accredited dental assistant program, accreditation given by the Council on Dental Accreditation. If, for instance, you didn’t complete an accredited dental assistant program you can still be eligible for certification if you already have 3,500 hours of work experience that was approved. All the candidates for certification must possess a current CPR certification as well.

Individuals that meet the educational and the experience requirements can stand for a three component examination. The first exam – GC exam – includes topics that are related to the patient management, collecting and recording of the clinical data, dental materials, laboratory procedures and materials, equipment preparing, patient education and a few others. The RHS exam includes topics such as radiation health and safety, while the last one – the ICE exam – includes the procedures related to infection control.

In some states, dental assistants are required to pass some specific state examinations in addition or instead of the DANB’s CDA exams. The administration of these exams is made the DANB and is required in order to gain state licensure or to be able to qualify for certain dental procedures such as coronal polishing.

Those dental assistants who want to specialize in various kinds of dental work can obtain additional certification through DANB. If you think that you have the inclination towards this area then you can become a certified orthodontic assistant, or a certified restorative functions dental assistant.

Dental Assistant Schools

There are plenty of accredited dental assistant programs with plenty of educational opportunities, the only difference lays in your choice of the degree level and the most suitable option. For instance with the length of 1 year of courses for dental assisting / assistant you’ll find plenty of options depending on the state in which you want to study and to graduate, from Abdill Career College Inc, Medford OR, to the Academy of Health Care Professions, Austin TX, or with the length of 2 years of study but with the same qualification you can choose the Academy of Careers and Technology, Beckley, WV, or Akron Institute of Herzing University, Akron, OH.

This same university provides students also with an associate’s degree. An associate’s degree is also provided by the Allan Hancock College, located in Santa Maria, CA or by the Anthem Career College-Nashville, in Nashville TN.

Dental Assistant Salary

The income of a dental assistant is quite different this year than the one posted last year. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, individuals working in this field in 2016 received a median income that reached at an annual wage of $35,982 per year, while the lowest 10% of people hired in this career got home an annual wage of around $24,952 per year.

For this occupation the top paying industries were to be found in the area of State Government that granted to these professionals an annual mean wage of around $40,642 per year, Insurance Carriers that granted a median annual wage that reached at $42,312 per year, Specialty – exception made on this branch the Psychiatrics, as well as the Substance Abuse Hospital – that granted an average annual income of $40,562 per year and a few others as well.

The top paying states for this job that recorded high earnings were: Alaska with an annual mean wage of $44,562 per year, North Dakota with $42,010 per year, New Hampshire with $45,482 per year, and a few others.

In 2017, the income of a dental assistant varies according to several factors such as geographical location, specific type of employment, as well as years of experience in the field. When it comes to the gender factor, the vast majority of dental assistants working in this field are women rather than men. On average, the median salary that is reported for these professionals, according to the salary data survey provided by PayScale tends to reach at $32,000 per year. A starting point in the beginning salaries tends to be of $18,996 per year and it can climb up to the values of $45,825 per year.

To these incomes there are also added bonuses estimated to range between $197.37 and up to $3,009, while the profit sharing that is received can often be set between $101.38 and $3,879. The granted commission has its share being comprised from $205.02 and $4,510. All these benefits lead in the end at total earnings for dental assistants that are estimated to start from $22,324 per year and up to $43,836 per year or higher.

When it comes to payment according to the level of experience, the incomes have a slow start but increase gradually with the years. For instance, an entry-level dental assistant with up to five years spent in the field can expect to gain around $28,010 per year, while one professional with 5 and up to 10 years of working experience will gain an average that is recorded at $34,010 per year.

Those who enter in the category of experienced dental assistants with 10 and up to 20 years of work practice will take home earnings that reach at $37,010 per year. The last category, the so-called veterans of this field with more than 20 years spent at the working field and with plenty of experience can expect to gain an average estimated somewhere around $40,010 per year.

When it comes to the location factor, the posted national average for dental assistants has an average that reaches at $31,735 per year. The best working places according to location can be found in regions such as Seattle that provides a median average payment that gets around $41,619 per year, followed at distance by New York with a granted median payment that gets around $33,323 per year.

On the same basis, 4% above the national average are the regions of Atlanta with $32,851 per year, Chicago with $33,035 per year, Denver with $33,092 per year and Las Vegas with $33,010 per year. The lowest median incomes are paid in regions such as Houston that reports a median average payment that is below the national average reaching at $31,396 per year, followed by Dallas with $31,522 per year and Orlando with $31,328 per year.

According to other sources such as, the median income of a dental assistant is estimated at $34,862 per year, with a range that is comprised between $30,942 per year and up to $38,542 per year. Each salary varies also according to the state or according to various locations where this job can be found within a state. For instance in Carlsbad, California the salary of a dental assistant reaches at $35,672 per year, while in Fremont, California the reported income is $40,365 per year. In Staten Island, New York the income that dental assistants receive is estimated at $39,112 per year while in Niagara Falls, New York the reported incomes reach at an average of $33,148 per year. According to, the income of a dental assistant has an average that reaches at $58,010 per year.

Dental Assistant Job Outlook

Over the last five to ten years, the projected employment growth rate for dental assistants is estimated at 18%. Since there is a strong connection between oral health and general health, this percentage is likely to remain constant or even grow. The number of cases for dental services is still increasing, making more dentists inclined to hire dental assistants in order to complete the routine tasks.

This fact will allow dentists to have benefits on their part of job, allowing them to see more patients in their practices as well as to spend the required amount of time on those sort of procedures that are more complex. On the other hand with the industry of dental offices arising, an increase in the demand for more dental assistants will begin.

The best job prospects will be held by those individuals that gained in this field advanced training as well as certification. Other factors that determine the increase of projected employment are linked with the federal health insurance reform that allows people to gain more access to the health insurance. With an expanded or a new dental insurance coverage, individuals are more inclined to visit the dentist more often than they were inclined to go in the past.

Similar – Related Jobs

The path for a dental assistant includes as well other related or similar jobs that might draw attention. For instance, medical assistants are those professionals who fulfill various tasks or duties depending on the owned specialty, location, and the size of the practice in which one is working. The roles of these specialists is to fulfill clinical or administrative tasks that are linked with the places where they are working such as hospitals, various offices of Physicians, or other health care facilities.

Dental hygienists are those specialists that dedicate their career to clean the teeth of the patients, examine each case for occurring signs of oral diseases such as gingivitis, as well as provide various other preventive dental care. Their role extends on educating their patients on maintaining and having a good oral health. Pharmacy technicians are responsible for helping pharmacists with dispense of prescription medication to the health professionals or to costumers.

Nursing assistants and orderlies fulfill quite different tasks. For instance, nursing assistants also called nursing aides they are in charge with helping provide the basic tasks for the care of patients in hospitals and the residents of facilities with long-term such as nursing homes. On the other hand, orderlies are those who are responsible with the transportation of patients and the cleaning of the treatment areas.

Surgical technologists also known as operating room technicians are those specialists that have the main role of assisting in various surgical operations, but also preparing the operation room, arranging the necessary equipment, and providing help and support for the doctors during the surgeries.

Occupational therapy assistants and aides are in charge with helping patients to develop, improve and recover all the basic and necessary skills that allow them to function well on a daily basis and in case of working. The first category of specialists are those responsible for providing therapy to patients while the second category have the role to perform support activities. Occupational therapy assistants as well as aides work under the strict surveillance and direction of occupational therapists.

The last category of individuals that have related jobs with the ones of those who work as dental assistants are physical therapists assistants and aides. Physical therapists assistants also called PTAs and the physical therapists aides work under the supervision and the direction of other healthcare specialists such as the physical therapists. They are responsible with helping the patients that are recovering from various injuries or illnesses by providing the right assistance in regaining movement and managing existent pain.

Conclusion about the Dental Assistant Career

A dental assistant career involves a set of skills that will develop you as a dental health professional, allowing you to be more efficient at the working site. The educational requirements are not hard to follow depending mainly on the kind of work you want to pursue, but the licensure requirements must be checked since they might differ from state to state.

The best benefit in this type of career is connecting more to people that come from various social and cultural backgrounds and having the opportunity to work very closely with other dental healthcare providers. With this career path there are also other advancement opportunities that will lead you to other duties or tasks.