Learn to Become a Dental Assistant

One of the growing sectors in the health care industry is dentistry. Recent studies have proven a link between good dental hygiene and overall health. In fact, there are a range of illnesses that can be caused by or exacerbated by poor dental health. In addition, people who have good dental hygiene may be more likely to take care of themselves in other ways, like watching what they eat or exercising regularly. There are several factors to consider when learning how to become a dental assistant.

Dental assistants must be able to communicate professionally and show compassion to their patients. Patient care is a big part of the job as the dental assistant often spends as much time as, if not more, than the dentist. Dental assistants often interview patients before a procedure. They often perform vital tasks like taking x-rays and recording medical or insurance information. Dental assistants must be skilled with their hands. Many of their duties involve chair-side assisting. They help dentists and specialists by organizing equipment, preparing patients and their mouths for procedures, and recording medical information and diagnoses. They must be knowledgeable about the equipment used because they are often responsible for stocking and maintaining supplies. Finally, they perform certain dental functions from flossing and polishing teeth to teaching dental hygiene to patients. There are also administrative tasks they must perform capably.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the next decade should provide excellent employment opportunities for properly educated dental assistants and salaries should be better than average and a good percentage of dental assistants earn more than $45,000 a year. The differences in salary can be attributed to experience, education, and geographical location. Those on the coasts and large cities generally make more than those in rural areas in the interior of the country.

To take advantage of the employment opportunities and salary offered by this career, dental assistants must become trained. Many dental assistants attend certificate or diploma programs at vocational schools or technical colleges. These tend to last less than a year, but are very comprehensive. They teach classes in the skills dental assistants need, from taking x-rays to flossing patients’ teeth. They also teach the dental terminology needed for dental assistants to communicate with dentists, hygienists, and specialists. Associate’s degree programs may be more comprehensive, including courses in professional oral and written communication, anatomy, and business. Most certificate, diploma, and degree programs also teach CPR as a precautionary strategy in the event a patient reacts poorly to local or general anesthesia.

Many states require dental assistants to be credentialed. Candidates must have the appropriate educational background although those that work for enough years can become exempt from these requirements. There is a national credentialing exam that is the final requirement for dental assistants to achieve a credential. These credentials are not permanent and must be renewed occasionally through proof of continuing education. Finding a good job opportunity is the final step. Dental assistants work in private practices, hospitals, and for community health clinics. Hospitals may have the highest salary structures. Large institutions may offer the most opportunity for learning new skills and gaining advancement. Dental assistants typically must add certificates or new skills to their resume to move vertically. In larger establishments, some additional coursework may allow them to move into administration.

Last Updated: 05/22/2014