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What Do Dental Assistants Do?

Dental assistants work with dentists to perform a variety of office, laboratory, and surgical-related tasks. Dental assistants have less training than dental hygienists, but they have a wider range of responsibilities. Read this article to learn more about what dental assistants do.

Career Overview

The role of a dental assistant is vital to the efficiency and success of a dentist's office. The nature of tasks required of assistants varies widely, from administrative to medical. The following are commonly required duties and responsibilities inherent to the job of dental assistant.

Important Facts About This Career

Median Pay (2018) $38,660
Job Outlook (2016-2026)19%
Work EnvironmentMajority work full time in dentists' offices; about 30% work part time; some may work evenings and weekends
Similar OccupationsDental Hygienists, Medical Assistants, Occupational Therapy Aides, Pharmacy Technicians, Surgical Technologists

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Appointments and Surgery

Before an appointment, dental assistants prepare the patient and the surgery room. Before and during a patient's appointment, dental assistants will ensure patient comfort, prepare instruments, and apply topical anesthetic. They also hand tools to dentists, irrigate, and dry a patient's mouth with suction.

Dental Laboratory

While not assisting patients, some dental assistants work in a dental laboratory. While there, dental assistants create casts of teeth. They also polish and clean removable appliances. Dental assistants may also process X-rays or sterilize and disinfect instruments.

Office Duties

Dental assistants also perform general office work. This may include scheduling and confirming appointments and ordering supplies. Some dental assistants send and receive bills.

Training and Certification

Most dental assistants receive on-the-job training, though completion of a one-year dental assistant training program is becoming more common. Certification requirements for dental assistants vary by state. Some states require two years of work experience or a year of training to become certified. Other states don't require any certification.