Dental assistants play an important role in dental offices and other healthcare settings. These healthcare workers perform a wide range of tasks that involve assisting dentists and dental hygienists, along with making sure patients are comfortable and safe during their appointments. Those who want to be part of a dental team can become a dental assistant with the right training and education.
If you’re thinking about pursuing this career, knowing more about dental assistant job duties, school requirements, salary, and more can help you determine if this is a good career path for you. The following dental assistant career guide offers the information needed to better understand this type of career.
When you go to the dentist for a cleaning or other kinds of dental work, dental assistants are there to make sure you’re comfortable and prepared for your appointment. These assistants perform other tasks that help dental visits go smoothly, making them a crucial part of dental teams.
Different types of dental assistant careers are available. Unregistered dental assistants or entry-level dental assistants perform basic duties and responsibilities, such as preparing patients for dental care and sterilizing instruments. A certified dental assistant (CDA) is one who has obtained certification after taking exams in radiation health and safety, general chairside assisting, and infection control offered by the Dental Assistant National Board (DANB) at the national level; the CDA is a credential recognized in most states of the U.S. You can learn more about DANB edibility requirements by visiting their website. At CHCP, once you complete the Dental Assistant Program, you will be eligible to take the certification test, which is the first step toward becoming a state-registered dental assistant.
Registered dental assistants are dental assistants who have obtained licensing within that state of employment and/or training and are allowed to perform a wider range of job duties, which could include constructing temporary crowns, taking tooth impressions, and applying fluoride. With the additional credentials, you could potentially advance your career to higher level positions. Keep in mind that specific job titles for different types of dental assistants vary from state to state.
Dental assistants perform tasks that benefit patients and dental offices. These assistants provide compassionate care when preparing patients for dental work or explaining treatments to them. They also help keep dental offices running without long delays or other problems that impact patient care by handling a variety of tasks, that could include scheduling follow up appointments, processing X-rays, and passing instruments to dentists during treatments. Dental assistants help with infection control in dental offices, as well, which helps keep patients and staff safe.
School requirements for dental assistants vary by state. Some states do not have any educational requirements for dental assistants, while others limit the tasks dental assistants can perform without specific training or certification. In some states, dental assistants can learn the skills they need with on-the-job training rather than a formal education. If you’re planning to become a dental assistant, you should make sure you’re familiar with the requirements in the state you want to work in.
The courses that dental assistants must take can vary depending on state requirements and specific school programs. However, dental assistant students can expect to take courses covering the basics of healthcare work and learn the skills for this type of career. Some classes dental assistant students often take include:
During most dental assistant programs, students practice the skills needed to prepare them for their credential exams, along with any additional skills required to earn a diploma, certificate, or degree. The College of Health Care Professions helps students prepare to take the Texas Registered Dental Assistant (RDA) exam. Once students pass the exam, they can complete an application through the Texas State Board of Dental Examiners (TSBDE) and receive their RDA license in their state. This additional credential may provide them more opportunities as a dental assistant.
Generally, after two years of full-time employment with a dental office, dental assistants can take the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) exam. DANB offers certification for dental assistants, which can allow them to take on additional responsibilities. Some states require certification through DANB in order to work as a dental assistant. Certification requirements vary based on the type of certification. For example, those who want to obtain certification in order to become a Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) must pass three exams after graduating from a Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) accredited dental assisting program, complete a certain number of hours of DANB-approved work experience, and complete an externship.
Other types of certifications that DANB offers include National Entry Level Dental Assistant, Certified Preventive Functions Dental Assistant, and Certified Restorative Functions Dental Assistant. These certifications are recognized nationally as well, should the dental assistant decide to move from one state to another.
Working as a dental assistant can provide you with a career that involves caring for others. Learning more about the specific job duties and responsibilities dental assistants handle, as well as where they work and how they can advance their careers, can help you decide if you want to pursue this career path.
Dental assistants handle a wide range of duties and responsibilities, such as scheduling appointments and assisting with patient care. Exact job duties and responsibilities for dental assistants vary depending on where they work and what kind of training they have. In general, dental assistants work alongside dentists and dental hygienists throughout the day. Some of the tasks they handle as part of their workload could include the following:
Dental assistants with specialized training and certification can perform additional tasks, such as taking X-rays, applying sealants, applying fluoride treatment, or administering topical anesthetics.
Dental assistants mainly work in dental offices. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that dental offices employ 90% of dental assistants. A much smaller number of dental assistants work in other healthcare environments. Roughly 2% work in physicians’ offices, and another 2% work in government settings, according to BLS. Some of the places dental assistants can work include:
Dental assistants have the option to continue their education and expand their career opportunities. Some might choose to become certified dental assistants or expanded function dental assistants. These career paths allow dental assistants to perform additional tasks on the job. In some cases, dental assistants might decide to advance their career rather than expand their duties and responsibilities. These assistants can earn an associate degree and complete a licensing exam to become a dental hygienist, which involves learning to handle dental cleanings and other dental care. Dental assistants can also earn a bachelor’s degree and dental school degree, then pass licensing exams in order to become a dentist.
How much do dental assistants earn per year? The salary for dental assistants can vary based on many factors, such as where they work or how much experience they have.
The job outlook for dental assistants from 2021 through 2031 is strong, and dental assistant jobs are expected to grow 8%, which is faster than the average rate for all jobs in the U.S. This amounts to roughly 44,000 dental assistant job openings. The growth in dental assistant jobs is expected to happen for a few reasons, including an increasing awareness of the connection between overall health and oral health among the general public and a growing need for dental care among aging populations. Dental assistants are also expected to be in demand throughout the next decade as workers retire and need to be replaced.
If you’re ready to begin the journey toward becoming a dental assistant or if you’re exploring options for your education, please contact The College of Health Care Professions (CHCP) for more information. We offer Dental Assistant Programs on campus in many major cities in Texas and online to help students learn the skills needed for this career. The campus-based programs are delivered in a blended format where students are on campus two days per week and perform the remainder of their work online. The online program includes both online work and in-person weekend lab classes.