Dental Assistant: Job Duties, Employment Outlook, and Training Requirements

Explore the career requirements for dental assistants. Get the facts about training requirements, licensure, salary and job duties to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Dental Assisting degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Dental Assistant Do?

Dental assistants support dentists by performing both clinical and administrative duties, though the specific duties vary by the dentist's office. They help during dental procedures and take on technical work as well, such as preparing the tools and taking x-rays. In some states, they are allowed to execute certain dental procedures by themselves.

Discover the job duties, employment outlook and training requirements for working as a dental assistant.

Training Required On-the-job training; postsecondary dental assisting programs are available
Key Responsibilities Schedule appointments; sterilize and organize equipment; prep patients for dental treatments; maintain dental records
Licensure/Certification May be required for more complex tasks; certification is voluntary
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 18%
Average Annual Salary (2015)* $36,920

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Job Duties Does a Dental Assistant Perform?

Dental assistants have a variety of clinical, laboratory, and administrative job duties, depending on their level of training. As a dental assistant, you'd perform such clinical tasks as seating patients in dental chairs and prepping them for the dentist, as well as assisting the dentist with patient examinations. You might also take x-rays of teeth, sterilize dental equipment and apply local anesthetics and dental dams. In the laboratory, the dental assistant may focus on cleaning removable mouth gear and making impressions of teeth. Administratively, they handle billing, order inventory, answer phones, greet patients and accept payments.

What Is the Employment Outlook?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts employment for dental assistants will increase by 18% between 2014 and 2024, which is much faster than average. The increasing amount of people with health insurance will create a higher demand for dental assistants. It was also thought that as older dentists retired and younger professionals entered the field, they'd be more willing to enlist the services of dental assistants. According to the BLS, as of 2015, dental assistants earned $36,920, on average.

What Training Requirements Must I Complete?

To begin a career as a dental assistant, you may find opportunities to become trained on-the-job, because no formal training requirements exist. If you'd like to perform more advanced and complex dental assisting procedures, then a state license may be required, or several years of experience as a dental assistant. In a number of states, licensing requires graduation from an approved program of dental assisting.

You should select a dental assisting program that has been accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), an agency of the American Dental Association (ADA). Found in junior and community colleges, these programs can be completed in 1-2 years, depending on whether they grant certificates, diplomas or associate's degrees. Associate's degree-level dental assisting programs consist of courses on dental office procedures, business, dentistry fundamentals, microcomputer applications, radiology, infection control and advanced chair-side assisting.

On-the-job training is recommended and likely, even if you choose to also undergo formal training. When you complete your educational program of study, you'll then be eligible to sit for the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) examination. A passing score means you'd then be designated a Certified Dental Assistant (CDA).

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Those looking into career advancement may consider becoming a dental hygienist, who does routine cleanings and examines patients' oral health. Dental hygienists need an associate's degree, unlike assistants. Becoming a medical assistant in a health setting is another choice and only requires a certificate. Another job with no formal training requirements is a pharmacy technician, who helps pharmacists disperse medicine.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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