What Should I Know Before Becoming a Dental Assistant?

Dentists take care of their patients' teeth, but dental assistants provide much of the patient care in a dental practice. A dental assistant may clean instruments, take x-rays, interact with patients and assist with procedures. For some, this career offers strong job prospects and good wages. Continue reading to discover what you should know before considering a job as a dental assistant. Schools offering Dental Assisting degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Training to Become a Dental Assistant

Many community colleges and trade schools offer diploma or certificate programs in dental assisting. Lasting two-three semesters, a dental-assisting program gives you a comprehensive overview of the job. You may be required to complete a training program that is accredited by a professional organization such as the American Dental Association's Commission on Dental Accreditation.

In preliminary dental assistant courses, you could be able to learn about the various materials that are used in a dental practice, including hand-held instruments and x-ray machines. Upper-level coursework may consist of chairside assisting courses, which might provide you with hands-on experience in working alongside dental professionals. You could practice radiology and laboratory procedures and help the dentist interpret x-rays. You may also take dental management courses, in which you will explore various aspects of dental office operations.

Important Facts About Dental Assistants

On-the-Job TrainingFor those without formal training/certification
Work EnvironmentMust wear protective gear to avoid infectious disease and x-ray risks in dental offices
Key SkillsInterpersonal, organizational, listening
Similar OccupationsDental hygienist, surgical technologist, medical assistant

Licensure and Certification Requirements

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), some states require dental assistants to become licensed or certified (www.bls.gov). Licensing requirements vary greatly by state, but they typically include completion of an accredited dental assisting program and passage of a written examination.

Some states require dental assistants to become Certified Dental Assistants (CDAs) through the Dental Assisting National Board (www.danb.org). Certification entails completion of an approved training program or 3,500 hours of dental assisting experience in the last two- four years as well as CPR certification. Candidates must then pass the CDA examination, which focuses on safety and infection control, general chairside assisting and radiation health. CDAs must renew their certifications annually.


Dental assistants perform a wide range of patient care duties in dental offices. You'll be responsible for maintaining examination rooms as well as sterilizing and laying out dental instruments for use by the dentist. You'll prepare the patients and take any necessary x-rays or oral impressions.

When the dentist is performing a procedure, you will work at his or her side, handing over instruments and keeping the patient's mouth dry. You may advise patients about dental care or any post-procedural needs. You might also fulfill office management tasks such as calendar and file maintenance, appointment scheduling and billing.

Job Prospects

Dental assisting is projected to grow much faster than average for all careers. Employment of dental assistants is expected to grow 19% between 2016 and 2026, according to the BLS. This expected job growth is an effect of a growing aged population, who tend to have more dental needs, and greater attention to preventative care. The average annual wage of dental assistants was $39,770 in May 2018.

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