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What Is a Dental Nurse?

Dental nurses work alongside dentists to complete oral exams and surgeries. For more information about careers, education and certification, read this article.

Career Overview

'Dental nurse' is a term that's generally used outside of the United States. A similar occupation here in the U.S. is dental assistant, which is the career that this article will focus on.

Dental assistants work alongside dentists during oral examinations and surgeries. As a dental assistant, your duties could include adjusting lighting, administering numbing anesthetic to patients' gums, and operating a suction hose to clear away saliva. You also might counsel patients on general oral care or give them post-operation instructions. At times, you might perform common office duties, such as answering phones, arranging appointments, and taking payments. Other duties might include recording patients' medical histories and making sure they're comfortable during their time in the dentist's chair, as well as preparing and cleaning examination or operating rooms, stocking equipment, and sterilizing instruments.

Important Facts About Dental Nursing

Key Skills Organizational, listening, and interpersonal skills
Similar Occupations Dental Hygienist, Medical Assistant, Pharmacy Technician, Surgical Technologist
Required Education Dependent on state; Courses in biology, anatomy and chemistry are helpful
Work Environment Typically full-time, sometimes during the evening or on weekends

Education

Although some dental assistants get their start through on-the-job training, you'll likely need to complete a formal education program to work in this field. Options include certificate, diploma, and associate's degree programs offered through vocational schools and community colleges. Through one of these programs, you can gain a fundamental understanding of sterilization techniques and protocols for oral procedures, in addition to learning about radiology, dental anatomy, and orthodontics.

Certification

Some states require certification for dental assistants, while others require licensure or no credentialing at all. Certification is offered through the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). To earn DANB's Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) designation, you must have graduated from a dental assisting training program that's accredited by the American Dental Association's Commission on Dental Accreditation. Alternatively, you could hold a high school diploma and complete on-the-job training. All candidates must have CPR certification and pass the CDA exam. In some states, licensure or registration with DANB is mandated for dental assistants who perform certain tasks, including coronal polishing.

Occupational Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov) projected faster-than-average job growth for dental assistants in the decade spanning 2016-2026. The Bureau anticipated an increase of 19%, which translates to the addition of about 64,600 new jobs. This growth was attributed, in part, to an expected rise in demand for preventive dental care based on evidence of a link between oral and general health. According to the BLS, the average salary for dental assistants was $39,770 as of May 2018.