One career field that always seems to be in high demand is that of dental assistants. This job offers face-to-face engagement with a wide variety of patients and many different tasks to perform during a given workday. Those who venture into this dental career field should have an untethered interest in science, a team player attitude, manual dexterity, a general concern for others, and a desire for continued learning.
What Does a Dental Assistant Do?
Dental assistants perform many different jobs throughout the average workday. These include everything from patient care and recordkeeping to appointment scheduling and organizing dental tools. While the duties of an individual dental assistant will highly vary depending on the specific dental practice that they’re employed at, there are some common tasks that most perform. These include:
- Making patients comfortable during their visits
- Properly sterilizing dental tools
- Providing dentists with instruments during procedures
- Prepping the work area and patients for procedures
- Processing x-rays and lab tasks
- Scheduling patient appointments
- Assisting patients with payments and billing
- Keeping dental records
- Preparing dental insurance claims
- Placing temporary sedative restorations
- Removing sutures
- Taking impressions
- Taking and recording vital signs
As you’ve learned, dental assistants spend most of their day working closely with dentists and patients alike. In this career, you’ll be able to assist with all types of dental procedures. These include extractions, crowns, and fillings. If you specifically work at an orthodontic practice, you’ll partake in more strategic procedures like dental implants, brace placement, and other tooth straightening options.
Apart from hands-on assistance with dental procedures, you’ll have a variety of administrative duties to go along with your job. These will vary highly depending on the dental practice that you work at. Some of the most common include recordkeeping and patient scheduling.
What Type of Educational Degree and Certifications Do You Need?
The education path to becoming a dental assistant is going to vary highly depending on the state that you plan on practicing in. Some states require accredited degrees, while others only require on-the-job training experience.
For states that require an accredited degree, you can expect to spend about one to two years completing the programm. This will likely include both laboratory and classroom work, where you’ll learn about the anatomy of human teeth and be introduced to the various dental instruments used.
Most courses will heavily rely on psychology, chemistry, anatomy, dental radiology, communication skills, and other dental-related programm topics. You’ll find these programs offered at vocational schools, technical institutes, community colleges, some universities, and dental schools.
If your state requires on-the-job training, you’ll learn all your necessary job skills from dental hygienists, dentists, and other experienced assistants in a real practice environment. They’ll train you how to complete daily tasks, interact properly with patients, dental terminology, and the names of the dental instruments that they use.
What Specific Skills Will You Learn to Master?
To work in this dental career field, there are some key skills that you’ll need to masters. First and foremost, you need to develop an eye for detail. Assistants need to be very detail-oriented so that they can follow specific protocols when assisting the dentist in treating patients.
Dexterity is another must-have skill, as assistants are required to work in tight spaces with precise instruments and tools. Since assistants work closely with dentists and other dental health professionals, they need to develop good interpersonal skills. Listening to patients’ concerns and being able to aid sensitive patients is a key aspect of the job.
Lastly, organization is an absolute must for this dental career field. A large part of your job is going to be to have the correct tools sterilized and ready for the dentist o dental hygienist. You’ll need to be able to know patients, the schedule, and keep accurate office records about all patients that you interact with.
What are the Job Settings for a Dental Assistant?
The large majority of assistants work in private dental offices under the supervision of dentists and dental hygienists. They work in a very well-lit and clean environment each day. They’re expected to wear safety glasses, protective clothing, surgical masks, and gloves when treating patients. This is because assistants can be exposed to bloodborne pathogens and infectious diseases throughout the day.
Most assistants retain a full-time work schedule from their employer during normal nine-to-five office hours. Some practices may require working select evenings or weekends. Assistants interact heavily with patients of all different types. Some dental practices may specialize in treating children, while others may specialize in only treating adults.
Apart from private dental offices, these individuals can work in a number of other work settings. These include:
- Group Practices
- Insurance Companies
- Dental Suppliers
- Armed Services
- Educational Institutes
- Public Health Facilities
- Dental Manufacturing Companies
If you opt for this career field, you’ll have ample opportunities of locations to work at. Getting a wide variety of experience in different job places is a great way to build up social and physical job skills. The average assist in this field makes around $35,000 per year. However, this will vary greatly depending on your individual job location and work experience.
How are the Chances of Getting Hired as a Dental Assistant in the U.S.?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected an 8% growth rate in this career field from 2021 to 2031. This is a much faster growth rate than most average U.S. occupations. Furthermore, they estimate that there will be about 56,400 job openings each year. This is based on other information, such as projected retirement rates and transfers to different occupations.
As more ongoing research is linking the importance of good oral health to good general health, more and more citizens are demanding regular dental services. Preventative dental services are expected to continue to be in high demand for decades to come. Those who seek a job in this career field will experience good hourly wages, a clean working environment, gainful employment opportunities, flexible hours, many chances for career advancement, and get to help patients every day.