Choosing a career as a dental assistant may seem pretty straightforward. Dental assistants work in a dental office and help with patients and paperwork. Though, it’s not as simple as it sounds.

As there are many different kinds of dentists, there are also different types of dental assistants. If you consider entering a dental assistant program, first think about what type of dentistry best fits your skill set. 

What are the different types of dental assistants out there? 

Types of Dentistry

Exploring dentistry is an excellent place to start if you want to understand dental assisting careers better.

What Is General Dentistry?

Chances are, if you are thinking about becoming a dental assistant, you are picturing general dentistry. A general dentist is a primary dental care provider. When you are sick, you probably see your primary care doctor. If you need basic healthcare, physicals, and screenings, that is the job of your primary doctor. The primary refers you to a surgeon or specialist if you need surgery.

That same concept translates into dentistry. General dentistry handles the basics, such as:

  • Dental exams

  • Teeth cleaning

  • Orthodontic and pediatric screenings

  • Simple repairs like filling cavities

They will typically manage emergency dental situations, too. For example, if you wake up with a swollen face and throbbing jaw, you will see your primary dentist first. Then, if you need specialized care, you will get a referral to a specialist, such as an oral surgeon, to remove the tooth, or an endodontist, who will perform a root canal to try to save the tooth. General dentists will have either a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree, depending on the school they attended.

Dental assistants working in general dentistry may work with both adult patients and children and may also assist in standard procedures such as root canals, extractions, and filling cavities.

What Is Family Dentistry?

As the name suggests, family dentistry is primary dental care for everyone in the household, including children and adults. Family dentistry deals with oral health at every life stage, from pediatrics to older patients.

In many ways, general dentistry and family dentistry are close cousins. Both deal with core dental health issues such as whitening teeth and filling cavities. They also both do screenings and referrals as necessary. A family dentist will also have a DDS or DMD degree.

The only real difference is general dentists don’t have specialty training to work with children and teens who require additional procedures for treatment. Dental assistants working in family dentistry work with patients of all ages and perform the same tasks as general dentistry practices. 

What Is Cosmetic Dentistry?

A cosmetic dentist is skilled in enhancing or correcting oral features, catering to both personal preferences and addressing any existing issues within your mouth. Cosmetic dentistry is a multi-billion-dollar industry, and it deals with primarily elective procedures, including veneers and dental implants. They may also do less dramatic procedures like teeth whitening.

A general dentist that focuses on dental esthetics will have the standard degree but go through additional training as well to perform more specialized cosmetic dental procedures. Dental assistants that assist a dentist who focuses on high-end dental cosmetic procedures in their practice will be performing more intricate procedures. It may be necessary to have additional training to work in this office in some states, while other states require basic dental assistant education plus on-the-job training. 

Specialty Dental Practices

The most common careers in dental assisting are in general, family, and cosmetic practices. There are myriad specialties, however, such as:

  • Orthodontics

  • Oral surgery

  • Prosthodontics

  • Oral and maxillofacial surgery

  • Endodontics

  • Pediatrics

  • Periodontics 

  • Oral pathology

All of these specialties offer unique services. For instance, a pediatric dentist works with patients ranging from infants to teens. Likewise, an endodontist specializes in conditions and diseases that affect dental pulp—the nerves and blood vessels that go to each tooth.

Dental Assistant Career Paths

Dental assistants who work in the field of dentistry can specialize by getting additional education, which may be required in some cases. There are many levels of training for dental assistants.

Dental Assistant

The dental assistant can work in any dental office, usually in an entry-level role. It is the starting point for all dental assistants. Many choose this option after receiving their high school diploma or GED.

Registered Dental Assistant

RDAs are dental assistants who have completed a dental assistant program within their state of residence, have passed the Registered Dental Assistant (RDA) exam, and will be licensed within that state after completing an application. This licensing provides them more opportunities as a dental assistant.

Certified Dental Assistant (CDA)

A Certified Dental Assistant must work in the field for at least two years and then sit for a national certification exam. The Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) test is a path to dental assistant certification, which could open the door for higher-paying jobs and possibly working in more specialized practices in any state within the U.S.

Expanded Function Dental Assistant (EFDA)

Dental assistants can expand their work even further by becoming an EFDA. To obtain this title, you must work as a dental assistant for at least two years and be an RDA within your state or be a CDA already. This designation offers more opportunities for advancement and pay increase.

Expanded function refers to the ability to take on more advanced tasks. For example, some states offer licenses to EFDAs that allow them to place dental sealants and even complete some fillings.

If you are still looking for ways to move up, the next step would be to become a dental lab technician, dental materials supplier, or dental assistant instructor teaching up-and-coming dental assistant students.

Dental Assistant vs. Dental Hygienist

If you want to advance further, you could go back to school to become a dental hygienist. A dental hygienist performs procedures like dental cleaning and dental exams. Dental assistants work under dental hygienists and assist them as well.

You will need an associate degree in dental hygiene to work as a hygienist. That would mean two additional years of schooling. A dental assistant certificate program takes less time. For example, at The College of Health Care Professions (CHCP), it’s possible to obtain a certificate in as few as 36 weeks.

Dental Assistant Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the job outlook for dental assistants is growing faster than average. They state this industry will grow 8% between 2021 and 2031, adding an additional 30,100 jobs.

If you are considering becoming a dental assistant in any sector of the industry, you are likely making a good choice. It is a career that allows you to work directly with patients, helping them get through what many people hate—a visit to the dentist.

If you are looking for a rewarding career as a dental assistant, it starts with finding the right school.

The Dental Assistant Program at CHCP is available both day and evening at campuses throughout the state of Texas. You’ll find them in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, McAllen, San Antonio, and three campuses in Houston.

CHCP’s Dental Assistant Program offers blended learning, meaning you attend both on-campus classes and clinical training and do online coursework. It is the best of both worlds for students who want to work while getting an education.

For added flexibility, CHCP offers an online Dental Assisting Program. This program, which is designed to be completed in as few as 48 weeks, is formatted for the working student or parent. This program incorporates online instruction with the benefit of nine hands-on clinical skill training sessions on Fridays and Saturdays, spread out over the entire 48 weeks at our local Houston, Dallas, McAllen, Fort Worth, Austin, and San Antonio campuses.  

Dental assisting is worth considering if you are looking into promising career options that offer you flexibility and a strong future. Find out more about Dental Assistant School at The College of Health Care Professions.