A Dental Assistant is an integral member of the dental health team, competent via education, experience, and understanding of patient welfare. The Dental Assistant is qualified to provide support in administrative duties: chairside, laboratory, and radiological procedures, as defined by existing state laws. As an agent of the Dentist, the Dental Assistant strives to cultivate good will and confidence within the dental practice.
Nature of the Work
Dental Assistants perform a variety of patient care, office and laboratory duties. They are different than Dental Hygienists, who must be licensed to perform different clinical tasks. They can perform the following duties:
- Work chairside as dentists examine and treat patients
- Make patients feel comfortable in dental chair
- Prepare patients for treatment
- Obtain dental records
- Hand instruments to dentists
- Keep patients mouths dry and clear by using suction or other devices
- Sterilize and disinfect instruments and equipment
- Prepare try set-ups for dental procedures
- Instruct patients on postoperative and general oral health care
- May prepare materials for making impressions and restorations
- Expose radiography
- Process dental x-ray film as directed by a dentist
- May remove sutures
- Apply anesthetics to gums or cavity-preventive agents to teeth
- Remove excess cement used in the filling process
- Schedule and confirm appointments
- Receive patients
- Keep treatment records
- Send bills
- Receive payments
- Order dental supplies and materials
- Make casts of teeth and mouth from impressions taken by a dentist (lab duties)
- Clean and polish removable appliances and make temporary crowns (lab duties)
Education and Training
Many Dental Assistants learn their skills on the job, but there are many community and junior colleges, trade schools, technical institutions and Armed Forces that offer dental assisting programs.
Dental Assisting programs include: classroom, laboratory, and preclinical instruction in dental assisting skills and related theory. In addition, students may gain practical experience in dental schools, clinics or dental offices. Most programs take less than one year to complete and lead to a certificate or diploma. Two-year programs offered in community or junior colleges lead to an associate degree. All programs require high school diploma or its equivalent and some may require a typing or science course for admission.
Licensure: Some states regulate the duties Dental Assistants through licensure or registration. Licensure or registration may require passing a written or practical examination. States requiring licensure have a list of schools offering courses, usually less than one year in length. Some states require continuing education to maintain licensure.
Dental Assistants held nearly 297,200 jobs in 2010. About 40% worked part-time and sometimes in more than one dental office. Just about 100% of Dental Assistants work in a private dental office. A few work in dental schools, private and government hospitals, state and local public health departments or clinics.
Employment of dental assistants is expected to grow by 31 percent from 2010 to 2020, much faster than the average for all occupations. Ongoing research linking oral health and general health will continue to increase the demand for preventive dental services. As dental practices grow, more dental assistants will be needed. In addition, numerous job openings will be due to the fact that many assistants go back to school to be a Dental Hygienist, or Dental Assistants will transfer to other occupations, retire or leave the workplace. Dental Assistants will be hired to perform routine tasks so dentists may devote their time to more profitable procedures.
Earnings for Dental Assistants vary depending on experience, education and skill level. The following wages are for 2010:
Median hourly earnings: $16.09
Middle 50%: between $13.18 and $19.19 an hour
Lowest 10%: earned less than $10.90 an hour
Highest 10%: $22.64 an hour
Benefits depend on the dentist, practice setting and the number of hours worked. According the American Dental Association, 87% of Dentists offer reimbursement for continuing education courses taken by their assistants.
Profession Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics:
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