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How to Become a Dental Assistant

Are interested in getting into the field of dentistry? Would you consider yourself customer service focused and organized? A dental assistant may be the role that’s right for you. 

Dental assistants are essential to a dentist’s office. They work closely with dentists in order to ensure that they are following proper protocol. 

As a dental assistant, you are responsible for performing routine dental cleanings and assisting the dentist with any procedures that are more complex. You are responsible for uploading accurate patient data into the system, and updating records when needed. You are also in charge of scheduling patient appointments as well as taking billing and insurance details from the patient. 

The ideal candidate for this role will have completed a dental assistant program from either a vocational school or a community college. They must be great communicators, organized, and confidential with patient information.

Sample job description

The dental assistant is responsible for seating patients in treatment area and performing chair-side assistance, which consists of the following: setting up operatory for a planned dental procedure, clean dental unit for timely turnover, pass instruments safely, accurately, and efficiently, keep operative field clear of debris and retract oral tissues effectively and comfortably. [Your Company Name] is looking for someone who is self-motivated and excited to join our dentistry team. Ideally you’ll have at least 1-3 years of dental assistant experience in order to attain this role.

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Maintain and update client’s dental records
  • Perform routine dental cleanings and assist the dentist with procedures that are more complex 
  • Take X-Rays of patients and process them 
  • Schedule patient appointments 
  • Take insurance and billing details from patients 
  • Advise patients on recommended oral hygiene

Education and experience

  • High school diploma or GED required 
  • Post secondary education in a dental assistant training program at a vocational school or community college 
  • Certification and licensure requirements vary by state

Required skills and qualifications

  • Must have great customer service skills 
  • Must have great interpersonal skills and be extremely organized
  • Excellent communication skills, both verbal and written  
  • Ability to make good decisions quickly
  • Must be reliable and punctual

Preferred qualifications

  • Some on the job training or internship experience  
  •  Excellent customer service skills as well as ability to be confidential with patient information
  • Adaptable, takes initiative, able to think on their feet

Typical work environment

Dental assistants work as part of a team in a clinic setting, under the supervision of the dentist. They are typically working a 35-40 hour workweek. They will have to wear safety goggles, surgical masks, and gloves while working with patients. 

Dental assistants work with dentists as well as patients of various ages. Dental assistants need to be able to provide customer service to their patients and keep them calm if needed. 

Dental assistants usually have regular office hours, but this varies based on the clinic. Sometimes, clinics will have additional days on the weekend that they are open in order to accommodate patients’ varying schedules.

Typical hours

The typical work hours for a dental assistant are your typical business hours of Monday through Friday 8 AM to 5 PM. This can definitely vary based on what clinic you work at of course. Some clinics do occasional weekend appointments for kids and adults that are busy with school or work during normal business hours. 

Available certifications

Certifications for a dental assistant definitely vary from state to state. Some states require certifications, while others do not require certification. If a certification is required, it is typically the following:  

  • Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) Certification This certification program can only be completed after one has graduated from a dental assisting program (this can take anywhere from nine months to two years). The student must complete 3,500 hours of work experience and an externship as well. Then students must pay for, study for, and pass the exam in order to become certified.

Career path

The journey to becoming a dental assistant begins by getting a high school diploma or GED. Then, they must graduate from a dental assisting program, which can take anywhere from nine months to two years. 

Students who aspire to be a dental assistant should complete the required hours of on-the-job training or approved work experience in order to gain their certification if that is required in the state they reside in. 

Dental assistants need to develop soft skills, like being an excellent communicator and being extremely organized. They need to have excellent customer service skills in order to make the patient feel comfortable as well as be up to date on treatments and dental wellness. They need to be detail-oriented and organized when entering patient data into the system as well.

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 31-9091

2020 Employment330,200
Projected Employment in 2030367,000
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 11% increase
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift36,900 increase

Dental assisting is a good career that is not going to be going away any time soon. Dental assisting can be a good career on its own, or it can give you insight and a bit of experience on your way to becoming a dentist if you choose to go that route. Dental assistants are in high demand because every dentist needs quality dental assistants.