What is a Dental Assistant?

If we take a look at the American Dental Association (ADA) data, we can notice that the job opportunities for dental assistants are great and are expected to grow.

Actually, the employment of dental assistants will grow 25 percent in the years to come making it an ideal moment to start your path towards this career.

More complex dental procedures and the expanding number of patients who are in need of dental services cause the opening of new dental offices where dental assistants can look for employment.

Dental Assistant Job Duties and Responsibilities

Dental assistants are a very significant part of a successful dental practice and their duties and responsibilities can differ from office to office.

Nevertheless, their work is always related to patient care.

They can be found preparing patients for procedures or working with the dentist during the treatment.

Responsibilities of dental assistants are the following:

  • Taking dental radiographs
  • Applying sealant and fluoride
  • Recording the patient’s medical history
  • Taking patient’s vital signs
  • Preparing and sterilizing instruments and equipment
  • Preparing the examination room
  • Making patients feel comfortable both before, during, and after treatment
  • Educating patients regarding post-surgery or post-treatment oral care, as well as on effective oral hygiene strategies
  • Referring patients to other specialty dentists

Where do Dental Assistants Work?

When it comes to places where dental assistants can work, we have to mention that there is a number of settings.

General dentist offices, pediatric dentist offices, dental schools, private and government clinics, and state and local public health departments are some of the facilities where you can see a dental assistant at work.

How many responsibilities they will have depends on the size of the facility, as a small practice with just one or two dentists would have less work than large group practice.

Specialty practices include where dental assistants can also find employment are:

  • Oral and maxillofacial surgery (facial deformities, removal of teeth)
  • Orthodontics/dentofacial orthopedics
  • Endodontics (root canal treatment)
  • Periodontics (treatment of gum problems)
  • Prosthodontics (replacement of teeth)

What is Required to Become a Dental Assistant?

One way of becoming a dental assistant is to achieve education and training through vocational schools, technical schools, dental schools, junior colleges, or colleges/universities.

If you have chosen formal education, you will have to finish a dental assistant program which takes between 9 and 11 months.

Also, people who want to start working as soon as possible can enroll in some institutions that offer accelerated programs, part-time programs, and distance education programs.

Those who wish for more advanced knowledge can attend associate degree programs in dental assisting that last about two years.

When national certification in this field is in question, it is not obligatory, yet quite respected by employers.

The most recognized national certification in dental assisting in the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) credential offered through the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB).

Not every person is qualified to take the CDA examination.

He/she must first complete a dental assisting program accredited by the Commission of Dental Accreditation (CODA).

Those who have graduated from non-accredited dental assisting programs can also become eligible to take the CDA exam but only if they complete at least two years of full-time work experience as a dental assistant.

Other national credentials offered through DANB are:

  • Certified Orthodontic Assistant (COA)
  • Certified Preventive Functions Dental Assistant (CPFDA)
  • Certified Restorative Functions Dental Assistant (CRFDA)

What requirements dental assistants have to meet depends on the state where they want to work.

While some states require that dental assistants pass a DANB exam, others require licensure in addition to the completion of the national certification program.

It is also worth noting that in some states, dental assistants are obliged to register with DANB so as to be allowed to perform specific tasks.

In some other states, there are no formal educational requirements to become a dental assistant.

Qualities of Dental Assistants

So as to be successful in the field of dental assisting, you should always demonstrate professionalism.

You need to be willing to work well as part of a team, respect patients, and have excellent communication skills, as your duties will not only be speaking to patients about procedures but also communicating with the staff.

Dental assistants have to be well-organized, multitasking people as they are required to handle multiple responsibilities and sometimes work under pressure.

Attention to detail and the ability to accomplish clerical tasks without error are obligatory qualities.

Resources for Dental Assistants

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