How to become a Dental Assistant
by: Max Stein
Becoming a dental assistant offers one of the fastest educational paths to entering the rapidly expanding healthcare field.
Dental Assistant Job Description
Dental assistants provide support functions for dentists including assisting with dental procedures, lab work and office functions.
When helping with patientís dental procedures, a dental assistant may be involved with:
- Preparing dental instruments
- Gathering patientís dental records
- Handing instruments to dentist during patient procedures Keeping the patientís mouth dry during procedures Instructing patients on proper oral healthcare
- Taking and preparing x-rays
- Applying anesthetics
Lab duties of dental assistants include making casts of teeth, creating temporary crowns and cleaning dental prosthetics.
Office support includes scheduling appointments, receiving patients in the office, billing, ordering supplies and keeping patient records.
Most dental assistants work in dentistís offices. A small portion may work in hospitals or doctorís offices. Similar to dental hygienists, up to one third of dental assistants work part-time.
Salary Ranges / Job Outlook for Dental Assistants
Like many healthcare fields, the demand for dental assistants is expected to grow faster than average over the next decade.
The median hourly pay rate for dental assistants is $13.10 and the high and low range of the scale is $8.45 at the low end and $19.41 at the high end.
Advancement in this career is limited due to the low education requirements. Some dental assistants advance to office management or product sales representatives. Others go to school for an additional year to become a dental hygienist. Dental assisting is very much an entry level position, but experience in the field and additional education can be very lucrative.
Education / Getting Started
Several educational paths exist to become a dental assistant. Most dental assistants learn on the job, however more and more dentists hire assistants with formal training. The American Dental Association accredits one and two year dental assistant programs leading to certificates or associateís degrees. Some schools offer four to six month dental assisting programs, but these are not accredited. A clinical rotation is part of the training.
Most States require dental assistants to be registered or licensed. Dental assistants who perform x-rays may be regulated by their State as well. The Dental Assisting National Board offers certification that meets the registration requirements in over 30 states. CPR training and continuing education may be a requirement of a dental assistant.
Dental Assistant Summary
Training to be a dental assistant is a great way to get into the healthcare field. It offers a great employment outlook, but additional education is needed to get into more lucrative jobs.