Dental assistants perform a variety of patient care, office, and laboratory duties, and often work chair-side as dentists examine and treat patients. They make patients as comfortable as possible in the dental chair, prepare them for treatment, and obtain their dental records. Assistants hand instruments and materials to dentists and keep patients' mouths dry and clear by using suction or other devices, and also sterilize and disinfect instruments and equipment, prepare trays of instruments for dental procedures, and instruct patients on postoperative and general oral health care.
Some dental assistants prepare materials for impressions and restorations, take dental x rays, and process x-ray film as directed by a dentist. Helps with office duties schedule and confirm appointments, receive patients, keep treatment records, send bills, receive payments, and order dental supplies and materials.
Dental assistants should not be confused with dental hygienists, who are licensed to perform different clinical tasks.
- Dental assistants work in a well-lighted, clean environment.
- Their work area usually is near the dental chair so that they can arrange instruments, materials, and medication and hand them to the dentist when needed.
- Dental assistants must wear gloves, masks, eye wear, and protective clothing to protect themselves and their patients from infectious diseases.
- Following safety procedures also minimizes the risks associated with the use of x-ray machines.
- About half of dental assistants have a 35- to 40-hour workweek, which may include work on Saturdays or evenings.
Training, qualifications and advancement
- Most assistants learn their skills on the job, although an increasing number are trained in dental-assisting programs.
- Assistants must be a second pair of hands for a dentist; therefore, dentists look for people who are reliable, can work well with others, and have good manual dexterity.
- Most States regulate the duties that dental assistants are allowed to perform through licensure or registration. Licensure or registration may require passing a written or practical examination.
- Certification is available through the Dental Assisting National Board and is recognized or required in more than 30 States.
- In addition, applicants must have current certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
- Without further education, advancement opportunities are limited. Some dental assistants become office managers, dental-assisting instructors, or dental product sales representatives. Others go back to school to become dental hygienists. For many, this entry-level occupation provides basic training and experience and serves as a steppingstone to more highly skilled and higher paying jobs.
According to the American Dental Association, almost all full-time dental assistants employed by private practitioners received paid vacation time. The ADA also found that 9 out of 10 full-time and part-time dental assistants received dental coverage.
Benefits vary substantially by practice setting and may be contingent upon full-time employment.