Dental Assistant Career Facts

A career as a dental assistant requires you to be patient, good with people, organized and efficient as well as good with your hands. It's also a perfect opportunity for anyone interested in a career as a dentist, to get a hands-on look at what dentistry is all about.

Facts about Being a Dental Assistant

  • As an integral part of a dental team, you'll be expected to do a variety of tasks that will include technical skills, interpersonal skills and organizational skills.

  • Dental assistants work daily 9 to 5 jobs with very little, if any, weekend hours. Part-time positions are available.

  • Dental assistants assist the dentist with patient-care procedures as well as interacting with staff and suppliers for office products.

  • Dental assistants do not perform the same tasks as dental hygienists.

  • Dental assistants are expected to address patients as they enter the practice, put them at ease and prepare them for their oral health appointment.

Education/Training to Become a Dental Assistant

Although some assistants learn on-the-job, training to become a dental assistant typically takes 9 to 11 months in an accredited program from a community college, trade school, dental school, vocation school or university.

During your training you will take classes in:

  • biology, 
  • chemistry, 
  • health, 
  • office practices, 
  • hygiene and 
  • radiation safety.

After completing the dental assistant's course work, many states require national board certification by taking the Dental Assisting National Boards exam. Certification not only assures you of top wages but also makes job hunting easier. If you want to be able to perform specialized tasks like radiological procedures, most states will require you to complete the Radiation Health and Safety exam from the Dental Assisting National Board and some even require a course in radiology.

Types of Dental Assistant Jobs

Trained dental assistants can work in a number of different oral-health specialties and environments. Different specialty possibilities include:

  • orthodontics
  • periodontics,
  • oral surgery,
  • pediatric dentistry,
  • cosmetic dentistry and
  • reconstructive dentistry.

Different dental environments to consider are:

  • hospital dental clinics - helping patients confined to their beds with dental care.
  • dental school clinic - helping dental students learn and practice dental skills. 
  • stand-alone practice - in a solo dental office for a single dentist.
  • dental clinic - in a multi-dentist practice for 2 or more dentists.
  • specialty dental office like a orthodontist or oral surgeon. 
  • public health dental office.

In addition to working hands-on in the field, you can also work in dental supplies sales or for insurance companies relating to dental claims.

Typical Salary for a Dental Assistant

Dental assistant wages differ depending upon the kind of tasks you'll be expected to do and the level of education and certification you have received. Dental assistants typically make about $33,000. Advancement to office manager or dental assistant instructor will bring slightly higher wages. Many dental assistants will opt to go back to school and finish their education to become a certified dental hygienist.

The Future of Dental Assistant Careers

The projection for dental assistants jobs in the future is expect to go up very quickly and continue to rise. The field has even been labeled by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics as the third fastest growing occupation in the US.