As a dental assistant, you will be responsible for preparing patients for dental surgery as well as taking care of the management and administrative functions of a dental office or clinic.

Dental assistants work alongside dentists and dental surgeons at hospitals, clinics, and outpatient centers. For many dental assistants, their job role will include a mix of dental surgery and office administration. Like any other medical career, job growth is good, while a high pressure environment is balanced by work satisfaction.

Is it for me?
A career as a dental assistant requires several diverse traits. As some dental assistants double up as office administrators and managers, good organizational skills can be very essential. Of course, at the end of the day, dental assistants are medical personnel. Traits such as being calm under pressure, the ability to follow instructions, and comfort in dealing with medical situations are also required. Another highly important skill – or perhaps, personality trait – is the ability to make people feel at ease. Most people don’t really relish a visit to the dentist and as you’ll probably be the one prepping them for their treatment, making them comfortable will be another important work role.

Some work roles a dental assistant can be expected to handle include:

  • Preparing patients
  • Taking X-rays
  • Sterilizing dental instruments
  • Assisting dentists and oral surgeons during procedures
  • Cleaning up after a procedure
  • Dispensing oral hygiene and dental care advice
  • Answering patient’s queries regarding medication and treatment
  • Office administration, including scheduling and billing
  • Logistical roles such as ensuring timely availability of medical supplies and equipment
  • Helping patients feel at ease

Dental assistants’ roles are also regulated by state authorities so your work profile and role might depend upon your location as well.

Study Options
To get started on this career path, you can join an Associate’s or Diploma level course in Dental Science. Some subjects you’ll encounter include:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Clinical dentistry
  • Infection control and hygiene
  • Radiography and X-Rays
  • Dental prosthetics and Prosthodontics
  • Dental specializations: Endodontics, Periodontics, Oral and Maxillofacial surgery
  • Interaction with patients
  • Pharmacology and dosage guidelines
  • Billing systems and office administration
  • Advances in dental technology

Depending upon where you reside, certification might also be required before you can start work as a dental assistant. The Dental Assisting National Board’s Certified Dental Assistant and Certified Orthodontic Assistant exams are the most widely-accepted certifications. At the same time, some states do not have any minimum qualifications for dental assistants, and it might be possible to learn on the job.
Also, like in other medical careers, you’ll have to keep your knowledge and certifications updated to ensure you’re conversant with the latest developments in this field.

What are my career prospects?
Dental assistants form one of the most in-demand professions around. According to the Department of Labor, job growth is far ahead of the average, with median annual pay in 2010 being $33,470. As a dental assistant you’ll most likely work with an independent dentist at a clinic/outpatient center or at a large hospital. It’s also possible to work part time and several dental assistants (around 2 in 5) do so.