Working as a dental assistant can be a highly rewarding career, dental health is intrinsically linked to the general health of the patient therefore assisting in providing first class dental care is an important role which can have a major impact on the quality of the patients life.
The job offers good pay, excellent working hours, and a professional environment providing service as part of the dental care team.
If you have excellent communication skills and are looking for a responsible position that engages your mind and your hands, becoming an assistant in a dental office may be the right choice for you.
Dental assistants perform a wide range of tasks to assist the dentist with their job. The duties performed are critical in providing quality and efficient treatment. Some of the tasks that dental assistants can expect to perform include:
The assistant spends more time with the patient than anybody else in the office; whether a patient decides to accept and continue treatment often depends on the relationship developed with the assistant and this can make a great difference in the day to day operation and success of the practice
The dentist cannot do everything by himself and needs help preparing a patient for a dental procedure, selecting instruments, suctioning, retracting the cheeks or tongue during a procedure, and completing patient notes
The assistant plays a crucial role in explaining treatment and follow-up procedures to a patient, and in making sure a patient is comfortable and satisfied with his or her treatment
Working as part of a team means being ready to help out whenever an extra hand is needed, from speaking to the patient to cleaning and sterilization of instruments
The actual tasks you would perform in the dental office depend on training and state regulations, but usually include both technical and interpersonal responsibilities:
- Help the dentist complete treatment procedures in all dental specialties
- Take and develop x-rays
- Prepare and sterilize instruments and equipment
- Provide for patient comfort and provide information for post treatment care
- Teach dental hygiene procedures
- Prepare casts
- Interact with clients and suppliers
Dental Assistant Courses And Schools
In order for an assistant to become licensed they must complete an accredited dental assisting program or alternatively have a minimum of two years of work experience and training.
Most states require that assistants are either registered or licensed. Before a dental assistant can perform their tasks they must meet the minimum required certification required for that state. In some states the may involve having a college degree.
The American Dental Association indicates that students can receive formal education through community colleges, vocational schools, technical institutes, universities or dental school.
The program must be accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation of the American Dental Association. As of 2011 there were 285 accredited dental assistant programs available in the United States.
Becoming Fully Certified
In order to become a fully Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) they must also pass the Dental Assisting National Board (NABD) CDA certification after completing their training program.
In addition to taking the NABD examination assistants are also required to have a current certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
The majority of programs take one year to complete and are offered at community colleges. At the end of the one year program the student receives either a certificate or a diploma.
There are also two-year programs available from community colleges which lead to an associates degree.
Topics Covered In Dental Assistant Programs
An accredited program will contain a mixture of laboratory and classroom work. During their program the student will learn about the areas that dentists work on including the teeth, jaws and gums.
They will also learn about the various instruments that dentists use in their work. The program will also include practical experience where the dental assistant will work in a supervised environment.
Earnings And Salary
Earning potential provides even more satisfaction with this career choice. While the actual amount will depend on location and specific responsibilities, you can expect to earn salaries equal to similar health care professions such as pharmacy, physical therapy assistant and medical assistants, and veterinary technicians.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2010 survey the average salary for assistants in the United States is $33,470 per year, this equates to an average hourly salary of $16.09.
The lowest paid 10% of assistants earned less than $22,680 a year and the highest 10% earned more than $47,090.
Average salaries are highest in the State of New Hampshire where assistants earn on average $43,480 and the highest paid assistants in New Hampshire earned $57,630.
The lowest paid state was Alabama where the average salary was $29,550. Here the highest paid salary was $37,900 and the lowest paid salary was $19,800.
Choosing Your Ideal Work Place
As you can see choosing the right state to work in makes a significant difference to the average salary paid.
The highest paid city is San Francisco, California where the average salary is $47,280. The lowest paid city is Charleston, West Virginia where the average salary is $25,750.
Work Environment For Dental Assistants
Almost all assistants work in a dental clinic, here they will work with the dentist and in some cases the dental hygienist.
They will at times be required to wear protective clothing in order to shield themselves and their patient from infectious diseases, this can include wearing surgical gloves, protective eyewear and surgical masks.
The exact hours worked will depend on the hours the office that they work is open, but in some cases this may involve evening and weekend work.
One of the advantages of working as an assistant is the flexibility the job offers.
Approximately 40% of assistants work part-time, with the remainder working full-time making it a popular position for mothers who wish to be able to spend time with their children.
The job outlook is very bright, According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the number of dental assistant jobs is expected to grow by 31% between 2010 and 2020, stats found here. This is considered to be much faster than the average growth rate for jobs
This equates to the creation of an additional 91,600 jobs in the industry. One of the primary factors driving job growth in the industry is the increased awareness of dental health to the overall health of patients. This is likely to lead to an increase preventative dental health.
Why The Demand Is Good For Assistants
As demand for dental services increases, dentists are hiring more assistants to take on routine tasks so that they are able to spend their time on more complex treatments.
Another factor driving the demand for dental care is the aging of the baby boomer generation, Seventy seven million baby boomers will retire over the coming two decades.
This equates to approximately 10,000 every single day. Baby boomers are keeping more of their original teeth than previous generations and thus require on-going dental care and certified dental assistants with a good work ethic and disposition should have no trouble finding work over the coming decades.