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POV of a dentists and a clown holding a chain saw about to operate on a patient.

Scary Dental School Grad Stories

If you’re in dental school, and wondering what your job is going to be like after you graduate, you might be in for a few surprises. Many dental school grads will simply coast through their work life, cleaning teeth and handing out advice. Depending on wher you practice your trade, though, you might encounter a few things that seem a bit out of the ordinary.

In fact, some of the things that you might see as a dental school grad who’s new to practice might scare you. Some of them will involve the dentist in whose practice you’re working. Others will involve patients. Here are some of the things that you might see, but would rather not.

Improper Sterilization

If you’ve been to dental school, and you paid attention, then you know that it’s very important to sterilize the instruments. In one Pennsylvania dental clinic, a dental hygienist was horrified to discover that the instruments weren’t autoclaved, just “cold sterilized.” In fact, when she tried to use the autoclave, he office manager scolded her. The conditions were so bad in that clinic that the hygienist only lasted three months before leaving in favor of another position.

Keep it Off the Counter!

In a Texas dental clinic, a woman entered the check-in area and deposited a rotten tooth on the counter, and began to spin it around. It wasn’t even her own tooth! It was her husband’s, and she wanted to know, if she brought him in to the clinic, could they put his tooth back in.

Picture of a rotten tooth on a counter.

The receptionist explained that it wouldn’t likely be possible, and then promptly disinfected everything that she’d touched.

Oh, Gross!

In another clinic, toothbrushes were rinsed and disinfected in the ultrasonic, and then re-used. A dental technician was reprimanded for throwing them away instead of disinfecting them. She quit rather than continue doing so.

Everything Old is New Again

How about this? In Michigan, a dentist bought old instruments at an antique sale. He tried to clean them up using an ultrasonic machine, but they were still rusty. He used them anyway.

Beyond Disgusting

In Minnesota, a worker in a dental clinic was scrubbing away at a stain on the carpet when the dentist entered, saw what she was doing, laughed, and said that she’d never get the stain out. Why? Because he’d tried already. The stain was due to the dentist an someone else having a “play date” in the clinic. The stain was due to a bottle of sexual lube that had spilled.

Some People Shouldn’t Get Nitrous

Another recent dental school grad reports that the dentist at her clinic once gave nitrous oxide to a patient who was drunk, saying that it would do her no harm. One time, the drunk patient vomited all over the grad. Another time, the patient inhaled a crown and gagged on it.

Messy Family Life

It’s unfortunate that sometimes, dental school grads end up in practices where the main partners have family lives that are not all that good. One grad found herself in a situation where the main dentist was going through a divorce, and pretty messed up He hired another assistant and began an affair with her.

Scared patient in a dentist's chair with a dental hygienist closing in.

This assistant was incompetent, insubordinate, and also prone to “coming on” to male patients. She was also horribly rude to the hygienists. Her behavior got to the point where the dentist finally fired her, but plenty of damage was already done.

Bad Dentists

One dental school grad reports having worked in a pediatric dental clinic where the dentist wore a “NO CRYING” button on his coat, and very much stuck to that rule. Parents weren’t allowed to be in the back when their kids were being treated, and the dentist was so abusive toward children that more than one assistant actually vomited when seeing how kids were treated. She couldn’t handle having to reassure parents that their kids were okay, when she knew perfectly well that they weren’t.

Bad Son!

Another dental assistant, in Florida, had her dentist’s mother come in for impressions preparatory to receiving dentures. She had a lot of bone loss in her jaw, and she most definitely needed dentures in order to restore her bite and her smile.

While taking the impressions, the dental school grad was horrified to find out that two of the woman’s teeth had become dislodged, and were stuck in the impression material. She couldn’t understand how any dentist could neglect his own mother’s dental health to the point where this would happen.

Whether it was the dentist’s fault (for not seeing what was happening in his own back yard) or his mother’s fault (perhaps for resisting treatment), in the final analysis there was no good outcome. The mother lost teeth that could have been saved. The dentist blew it. And the grad felt guilty, even though she shouldn’t have.

The Final Word: Dentistry

If you’re considering dental school and contemplating a future as a dental assistant or a dental hygienist, then you must be a wonderfully caring person. You want to help people. And most of the time, this career will help you to do just that.

Kind dentist giving a high five to a kid in his dentist's chair.

Remember, though, that not all dental clinics are created equal – you will encounter good dentists and bad dentists, and sometimes, you’ll encounter situations that will break your heart. In the long run, though, I think that dental school grads will find themselves in very rewarding careers, where they can help people in the way that they want to.

If you want to put a smile on someone else’s face, then dental school could lead you on the right career path.

Child getting her teeth checked by a dental assistant. The Future Outlook of Dental Assistant Jobs is only going to look better across all age groups.

Future Outlook of Dental Assistant Jobs

It should go without saying that working in any medical field is a great place to be. For one thing, the vast majority of the services provided aren’t going anywhere. People will always need them. Furthermore, this industry can be very rewarding on a personal level. Your job literally involves helping people, often in very important ways. If you’re interested in this field, you may wish to start perusing dental assistant jobs.

What Do Dental Assistant Jobs Entail?

In simplest terms, dental assistant jobs involve doing what the dentist tells you to do. Your job, after all, is to assist them in their role. However, to be more specific, in this position, you will:

  • Perform administrative work
  • Prepare patients for treatment and cleaning
  • Sterilize instruments
  • Carry out some forms of cleaning the patient’s mouth
  • Process x-rays
  • Maintain patient records
  • Answer the phones

All dental assistant jobs are different so what you do will largely depend on where you work.

It should go without saying that you will need a certain amount of people skills to work in this role. As you probably know, most people don’t especially enjoy going to the dentist, so part of your job will involve comforting these patients and being friendly. As we touched on above, you may also need to answer phones and otherwise make the practice’s first impressions with many patients.

The Future Outlook for Dental Assistant Jobs

The future looks good for those who are pursuing dental assistant jobs. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that there will be roughly 58,000 new dental assistant jobs created by the year 2024. This would represent an 18% growth in employment, which is much better than what you’ll find with other industries.

Dental assistant explaining a dental X ray to a patient.

If you’re interested in learning more about dental assistant jobs, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has a lot more information.

However, if you’re curious as to why these jobs are becoming so popular, that is a subject we can tackle here. It’s important to understand this, too, as it should inform your decision about whether or not to enter the field.

First, younger generations continue to take better care of their teeth than those who came before them. Amongst other things, this means that they visit the dentist far more often.

Second, health insurance is now much more widespread than it’s ever been before. This access to health care means more people are deciding to see dentists on a regular basis.

Third, the world has been introduced to an expanded list of dental procedures just in the last ten years or so. Teeth whitening is only one example that has boomed recently. Even the ways people replace missing teeth or otherwise receive dentures has increased significantly. All of this equates to more people visiting the dentist. Some of these procedures, like whitening, can be carried out by dental assistants, as well.

What Kind of Education Is Required to Become a Dental Assistant?

Dental assistant jobs are only open to people who have the required credentials. Given the nature of this work and how careful you need to show proof you’ve received the required education before you begin working on people’s mouths.

That being said, there is no one form of education you must receive before you can begin working in this role. Some people will go through some form of college. Others will take a dental assistance program or complete some version of secondary school.

An empty dentist's office with advanced dental equipment.

Whatever the case, you should also expect a fair amount of education that comes on the job. You’ll learn a lot simply by shadowing another dental assistant and working with the dentist. This is why the educational requirement isn’t that big of a deal. Even if you don’t have a stacked resume, if you are enthusiastic and hard working, many dental practices will give you an opportunity and handle the training themselves.

You’ll also want to check with your region for any laws or regulations specific to dental assistant jobs. It’s possible that there will be a minor amount of red tape involved to begin working in this field.

Part-Time or Full-Time Hours Possible

One of the many advantages to working as a dental assistant is that you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding positions for part and full-time schedules. This makes it a great opportunity for a parent or anyone else with other obligations they need to make time for.

While this isn’t the type of role that could ever lead to self-employment, it’s still nice to have some flexibility when it comes to deciding how many hours you’ll be working every week.

Anyone can become a dental assistant with enough drive. The benefits of this role certainly seem worth it. Now that you understand more about this type of work, nothing should hold you back from pursuing such an opportunity.

Dental assistant trainees in a dental office being trained by a dentist from the dental school.

How Do I Become A Dental Assistant?

Have you been thinking of becoming a dental assistant? It can be a very rewarding, exciting career path. You will deal with any number of different patients in a given day, working with them individually and under the supervision of a dentist. You’ll work in an exciting, fast-paced environment, and always be assured of employment opportunities. If you want to become a dental assistant, read on!

What Does a Dental Assistant Do?

A dental assistant essentially works with dental patients to ensure that they are comfortable in the dentist’s chair, and to get them ready for their treatment. When you become a dental assistant, you will:

  • Prepare the area for treatment by making sure that the necessary materials and instruments are in place
  • Sterilize the instruments
  • Hand the instruments to the dentist
  • Make sure that the patient is comfortable by using suction hoses or rinsing the mouth during treatment
  • Do lab work and process x-rays under the dentist’s direction
  • Schedule appointments
  • Keep records
  • Handle billing
  • Educate patients about oral health care and the prevention of gingivitis
  • Show patients proper dental hygiene techniques

As you progress, you may also assist with making casts of teeth or creating temporary dental crowns, applying sealants or fluoride, coronal polishing, or applying topical anesthetics.

The Work Environment

Currently, there are more than 300,000 dental assistants working in the United States. Almost all of them work in a dental office, under the supervision of a dentist. In order to protect yourself and your patients from various infectious diseases, you will wear surgical masks, safety glasses and protective clothing, and you will also follow certain procedures that are designed to reduce the risk of exposure to x-rays.

Work Schedule

If you become a dental assistant and you want to work full-time, you definitely can. However, this is a very flexible job. Figures from 2012 (which are the most recent numbers available) indicate that about a third of dental assistants work part-time. As dentists adjust their office hours to accommodate patients with varying schedules, you may even be able to choose evening or weekend work if that’s what fits best for you.

Become a Dental Assistant in Your State

In some states, there are no specific requirements for becoming a dental assistant. You can simply get employment in a dentist office and work your way into the position. Other states will require you to complete an accredited program and pass an exam. Generally speaking, though, you will have to have at least a high school diploma in order to become a dental assistant. If you are still in high school, you should focus on biology, anatomy and chemistry. If you are a high school graduate, you may wish to consider a community college program. Usually, you will need to study for one or two years in order to earn a diploma or certificate.

Accredited programs that are recognized by CODA (Commission on Dental Accreditation) will typically include both classroom and lab work in which you will learn about teeth, jaws and gums. Practical experience is also part of the program.

On the Job Training

If you have no formal education, you can still become a dental assistant through on-the-job training if you can intern with a dental office that is willing to train you. You will learn dental terminology, how to use instruments, interact with patients, and complete all the daily tasks that are needed in order for a dental office to run smoothly.

Qualities

Dental assistants need to have good interpersonal skills, since they will have to work with dentists and patients. Patients may be in pain, or experiencing a lot of emotional distress, and the assistant has to be sensitive to that. A dental assistant also has to be alert and good at taking direction, ready to hand the dentist the instrument he or she needs immediately. A dental assistant also has to be very organized, since it is the assistant’s job to make sure that the right tools are in place for the dentist or hygienist to use when a patient is being treated.

If you lack people skills, no one is going to judge you, but a career as a dental assistant may not be for you. But if you are compassionate and genuinely enjoy dealing with people, you might find that work in the dental field is just what you want. It also helps if you like children, since most dental practices are family-oriented.

Expected Salary and Employment Outlook For Dental Assistants

As a dental assistant, you are not going to get rich, but you can expect to earn approximately $35,000 annually if you work full-time. In some states, you may earn more. Generally speaking, dental assistants work full-time.

Dental assistant trainees listening to dentist instructor explaining denture work. The trainees are learning how to become a dental assistant.

There are significant opportunities for dental assistants in the current economy, and this is expected to grow by approximately 25% between now and 2022. This is considerably faster than it is for other occupations. This is largely because of the increase in demand for preventive and cosmetic dental treatments. Dentists will need more dental assistants to help with routine tasks, so that they can spend more time on complicated procedures. Dental practices will continue to grow, and as they do, more dental assistants will be required. Also, as baby-boomers age, and continue to keep more of their natural teeth, more dental care will be needed, and more dental assistants will find employment.

Obamacare: How It Affects Dental Assistants

Thanks to innovations made by the Obama government in order to deliver low-cost health care to all citizens, Americans are now required by law to carry health insurance unless they qualify for an exemption. Dental insurance for children is included in most health insurance packages, and insurers are also increasingly offering adult dental care packages as an add-on to the mandated health insurance coverage. What this means is simply this – more adult Americans will seek dental care. That means that dentists will have more and more patients than ever before, requiring more and more dental services, and there will be even more opportunities for dental assistants.

Have you thought about becoming a dental assistant? What about being a dental assistant appeals to you most?