Dental assistants enjoy enviable schedules, help their patients smile and happen to be in high demand… but is it the right healthcare job for you? We’re taking a look at this popular field and discussing what it takes to make it your career.
Job Overview: What Do Dental Assistants Do?
Dental assistants are tasked with a wide variety of job responsibilities, from basic documentation and paperwork to taking X-rays and assisting dentists with patient care — and each state has specific regulations that dictate what its dental assistants can and cannot do.
Some of the most common duties include the following:
- Prep patients for treatments and procedures
- Sterilize dental instruments
- Supply dentists with essential tools and instruments throughout procedures
- Instruct patients on proper oral hygiene techniques
- Process X-rays
- Complete medical paperwork
- Schedule patient appointments
- Assist with billing
- Help perform laboratory tasks
Depending on the state in which they work, dental assistants are sometimes allowed to perform the following procedures:
- Fluoride application
- Sealant application
- Topical anesthetic application
- Coronal polishing
How Do You Become a Dental Assistant?
Educational requirements for dental assistants vary widely from state to state, so it’s important to contact your state’s Board of Dental Examiners for a complete list of job requirements before enrolling in any dental assistant programs.
Many states require that dental assistants must graduate from an accredited program at a community college or vocational school and then pass a certification exam. Typically, these programs take around one year to complete, although some two-year programs are available that lead to associate’s degrees. If your state requires that you graduate from one of these programs, look for one that’s accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), which is part of the American Dental Association.
Most states don’t require licenses for entry-level dental assistants, although some do. States that allow dental assistants to perform advanced procedures like coronal polishing, sealant and fluoride application and topical anesthetics typically require that their dental assistants hold certifications from the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB).
4 Perks of Being a Dental Assistant
Interested in dental assisting? These benefits make the field an appealing choice:
- You’ll get to help others. A person’s smile is one of the most prominent features on his or her face, and proper oral hygiene affects a person’s holistic health. As a dental assistant, you can help teach others how to care for their smiles while enhancing their overall confidence. This career is a wonderful way to interact with people of all ages, and you can help ease patients’ fears by treating them with compassion, empathy and kindness.
- You’ll be in demand.
Worried about job security? This isn’t a problem for dental assistants. Faced with an aging population of Baby Boomers as well as a growing social awareness of the importance of good oral hygiene, these professionals are definitely in demand. The occupation is enjoying an above-average job growth, and these jobs are expected to continue growing by more than 30% now through 2020. As more and more dentists open up private practices across the country, employment of dental assistants is expected to grow at a faster rate than the national average for other occupations.
3. You’ll have a great schedule.
Dental offices operate on a pretty standard schedule, which makes this a wonderful career choice for healthcare professionals who don’t want to work night shifts or unpredictable hours. You can choose to work part-time (1 in 3 dental assistants do just that), or you can log full-time hours instead. Many dental offices are closed on holidays and weekends, too.
4. You’ll reap lots of job benefits.
While your exact benefits will depend on the company you work for, many dental assistants enjoy perks like medical insurance, paid sick leave and (yes) dental benefits. Dental assistants earn a median annual wage of around $36,940 as of 2016, with the highest 10% earning over $52,000 per year.
Are you considering pursuing a career as a dental assistant, or do you currently work in this growing field? Let us know in the comments!