Learn how to work in dentistry
Learn how to work in dentistry

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.


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?

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