How to Become a Dental Assistant

If you possess great people skills, are detail-oriented and well-organized and have an interest in science and health, you may be wondering how to become a dental assistant. Dental assistants play an important role in dentistry, the discipline of healthcare that concentrates on teeth and gums. As the job title implies, these professionals assist dentists in keeping records and performing dental procedures.

Unlike the related career of dental hygienists, dental assistants in many states do not work directly on patient’s mouths without supervision. They do, however, perform a number of essential tasks. Dental assistants are responsible for sterilizing the instruments used to perform dental procedures, preventing diseases from spreading throughout the patient population. They lay out the dental tools to be used for a specific procedure. During a treatment, they may assist a dentist directly by passing him or her instruments as needed and using devices to suck up moisture in the patient’s mouth. Dental assistants help maintain dental records such as noting treatments performed and taking X-rays. They may also set up appointments and perform billing tasks as needed.

Some dental assistants have additional responsibilities. They may work in a dental laboratory, creating dental implants such as crowns and casts. The range of tasks a dental assistant may complete is controlled in part by the specific employer and in part by the state in which the professional works. Some states permit dental assistants to clean plaque from teeth, use topical anesthetics to numb the mouth prior to a procedure, put fluoride or sealant on a patient’s teeth to help reduce the chances of cavities forming.

The educational and licensing requirements for becoming a dental assistant vary by state, but many aspiring dental assistants prepare for their careers by studying disciplines of science such as anatomy and biology. Some candidates take these courses during high school and possess only a high school diploma, though they typically are only able to pursue entry-level positions and have limited opportunities for advancement. These professionals learn much of their dental knowledge through on-the-job training. Other aspiring dental assistants pursue formal education through an accredited certificate or associate’s degree program in dental assisting. Depending on the regulations of the state in which candidates intend to work, they may have to seek certification through the Dental Assisting National Board or earn and maintain a license to work as a dental assistant.

Dental assistants who work full-time earned a median salary of $33,470 per year as of 2010, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. They enjoy a very positive job outlook, with the BLS anticipating career opportunities for dental assistants to increase by 31 percent between 2010 and 2020. This growth rate is significantly higher than the 14 percent increase expected for all occupations. If you pay attention to detail and have an interest in dentistry, knowing how to become a dental assistant could be the first step to a fulfilling career in a rapidly growing field.

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