Dental Assistants Career Information
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Significant Points· Rapid employment growth and substantial replacement needs should
result in good job opportunities.
· Dentists are expected to hire more assistants to perform routine tasks so that they may devote their own time to more profitable procedures.
· Infection control is a crucial responsibility of dental assistants. Proper infection control protects patients and members of the dental health team.
Nature of the WorkDental assistants perform a variety of patient
care, office, and laboratory duties. They work chairside as dentists examine
and treat patients. They make patients as comfortable as possible in the dental
chair, prepare them for treatment, and obtain dental records. Assistants hand
instruments and materials to dentists, and keep patients' mouths dry and clear
by using suction or other devices. Assistants also sterilize and disinfect instruments
and equipment, prepare tray setups for dental procedures, and instruct patients
on postoperative and general oral health care.
Some dental assistants prepare materials for making impressions and restorations, expose radiographs, and process dental x-ray film as directed by a dentist. They also may remove sutures, apply anesthetics to gums or cavity-preventive agents to teeth, remove excess cement used in the filling process, and place rubber dams on the teeth to isolate them for individual treatment.
Those with laboratory duties make casts of the teeth and mouth from impressions taken by dentists, clean and polish removable appliances, and make temporary crowns. Dental assistants with office duties schedule and confirm appointments, receive patients, keep treatment records, send bills, receive payments, and order dental supplies and materials.
Dental assistants should not be confused with dental hygienists, who are licensed to perform different clinical tasks.
Working ConditionsDental assistants work in a well-lighted,
clean environment. Their work area usually is near the dental chair so that
they can arrange instruments, materials, and medication and hand them to the
dentist when needed. Dental assistants wear gloves, masks, eyewear, and protective
clothing to protect themselves and their patients from infectious diseases.
Following safety procedures also minimizes the risks associated with the use
of radiographic equipment.
Almost half of dental assistants have a 35- to 40-hour workweek, which may include work on Saturdays or evenings.
Dental assistants held about 267,000 jobs in 2009. Almost all jobs for dental assistants were in offices of dentists. A small number of jobs were in the Federal, State, and local governments or in offices of physicians. About 2 out of 5 dental assistants worked part time, sometimes in more than one dental office.
Training, Qualifications, Adv.Most assistants learn their skills on the job, though some are trained in dental assisting programs offered by community and junior colleges, trade schools, technical institutes, or the Armed Forces. Assistants must be a dentist's "third hand"; therefore, dentists look for people who are reliable, can work well with others, and have good manual dexterity. High school students interested in a career as a dental assistant should take courses in biology, chemistry, health, and office practices.
The American Dental Association's Commission on Dental Accreditation approved 248 dental assisting training programs in 2009. Programs include classroom, laboratory, and preclinical instruction in dental assisting skills and related theory. In addition, students gain practical experience in dental schools, clinics, or dental offices. Most programs take 1 year or less to complete and lead to a certificate or diploma. Two-year programs offered in community and junior colleges lead to an associate degree. All programs require a high school diploma or its equivalent, and some require a typing or science course for admission. Some private vocational schools offer 4- to 6-month courses in dental assisting, but the Commission on Dental Accreditation does not accredit these.
Some States regulate the duties dental assistants may complete through licensure or registration. Licensure or registration may require passing a written or practical examination. States offering licensure or registration have a variety of schools offering courses--approximately 10 to 12 months in length--that meet their State's requirements. Some States require continuing education to maintain licensure or registration. A few States allow dental assistants to perform any function delegated to them by the dentist.
Individual States have adopted different standards for dental assistants who perform certain medical duties, such as radiological procedures. Completion of the Radiation Health and Safety examination offered by the Dental Assisting National Board, Inc. (DANB) meets those standards in 31 States. Some States require the completion of a State-approved course in radiology as well.
Certification is available through DANB and is recognized or required in 20 States. Other organizations offer registration, most often at the State level. Certification is an acknowledgment of an assistant's qualifications and professional competence, and may be an asset when seeking employment. Candidates may qualify to take the DANB certification examination by graduating from an accredited training program or by having 2 years of full-time, or 4 years of part-time, experience as a dental assistant. In addition, applicants must have current certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Recertification is offered annually for applicants who have earned continuing education credits.
Without further education, advancement opportunities are limited. Some dental assistants become office managers, dental assisting instructors, or dental product sales representatives. Others go back to school to become dental hygienists. For many, this entry-level occupation provides basic training and experience and serves as a steppingstone to more highly skilled and higher paying jobs.
Job OutlookJob prospects for dental assistants should be good. Employment is expected to for all occupations through the year 2010. In addition, numerous job openings will occur due to the need to replace assistants who transfer to other occupations, retire, or leave the labor force for other reasons. Many opportunities are for entry-level positions offering on-the-job training.
Population growth and greater retention of natural teeth by middle-aged and older people will fuel demand for dental services. Older dentists, who are less likely to employ assistants, will leave and be replaced by recent graduates, who are more likely to use one, or even two. In addition, as dentists' workloads increase, they are expected to hire more assistants to perform routine tasks, so that they may devote their own time to more profitable procedures.
Median hourly earnings of dental assistants were $15.62 in May 2009. The middle 50 percent earned between $11.06 and $16.65 an hour. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $9.11, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $19.97 an hour.
Benefits vary substantially by practice setting and may be contingent upon full-time employment. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), almost all full-time dental assistants employed by private practitioners received paid vacation time. The ADA also found that 9 out of 10 full-time and part-time dental assistants received dental coverage.
Other workers supporting health practitioners include dental hygienists, medical assistants, surgical technologists, pharmacy aides, pharmacy technicians, occupational therapist assistants and aides, and physical therapist assistants and aides.
Information about career opportunities and accredited dental assistant programs is available from: For information on becoming a Certified Dental Assistant and a list of State boards of dentistry, contact: For more information on a career as a dental assistant and general information about continuing education, contact: For more information about continuing education courses, contact:
Sources of Additional Information
Information about career opportunities and accredited dental assistant programs is available from:
For information on becoming a Certified Dental Assistant and a list of State boards of dentistry, contact:
For more information on a career as a dental assistant and general information about continuing education, contact:
For more information about continuing education courses, contact: