Skilled people who assist other dentists and perform tasks such as, taking patient records, scheduling appointments and prepping patients etc. are called Dental Assistants.
What Does a Dental Assistant Do?
Dental assistants are helpers to the Dentists who maintain the flow of their work and ensure smooth operation of their practice. Even though job description may vary by the state and the work environment, their basic job description includes:
Prepping patients in the dental chair
Preparing the work area for dentists
Sterilizing all dental instruments for treatments and procedures
Assisting dentists during procedures by handing them tools
Relaying information to patients regarding dentists’ instructions on oral hygiene
Processing the x-rays and completing the lab tasks assigned by the dentist
Maintaining records of all dental treatments and procedures
Scheduling appointments for the patients and so on
Sometimes dental assistants acquire special training in taking x-rays of teeth and surrounding areas of the mouth. Moreover, assistants may also be required to prepare materials for dental impressions or temporary crowns by the dentists under supervision.
Steps to Become a Dental Assistant in the US
In addition to completing formal education and training, working as a dental assistant requires a specific skillset that demands candidates to have attention to detail, strong communication and organizational skills. If you want to pursue this career, here is a step by step guide to help you begin.
There are numerous community, vocational and technical colleges in addition to various well known universities that are accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA). These institutions offer a certificate or a diploma in Dental Assisting that can be completed in almost a year whereas, the associate degree can take about 2 years to end.
The CODA-accredited programs provide their students with ample opportunities to gain hands on experience where they learn to work under expert dentists. They are taught about details of teeth, gums, jaws and the instruments used by the dentists.
Typically, entry-level dental assistants are not mandated by the state to acquire any licensure. However, some states make it mandatory for dental assistants to be licensed or certified even for an entry-level job. The requirements of licensure vary by the state. The Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) conducts a written exam that must be cleared by those dental assistants who want to extend their duties, such as performing a coronal polishing etc. To acquire the DANB certification, candidates must either,
Possess an accredited graduate degree
Have a high school diploma along with a certain amount of field experience
Candidates must also possess a current certification in CPR
How Much Can I Earn as a Dental Assistant in the US?
In 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an annual mean salary of $39,770 for dentist assistants which almost amounts to $19.12 mean wage an hour. That mean salary increased to $41,170 in 2019. The BLS also predicted an 11% employment growth for this career between 2018 and 2028 which is considered to be much faster than the average for other occupations. Furthermore, in 2019, the BLS data listed California as the state with the highest employment level (56,840) for this profession. On the other hand, Minnesota was named as the top paying state for this career with an annual mean salary of $52,220