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Professional Profile: Dental Assistant (RDA)

If you are interested in working in dental healthcare, consider a career as a dental assistant (RDA). Learn more about this career path.

If you are interested in working in dental healthcare, consider a career as a dental assistant (RDA). A dental assistant is an integral member of the dental health team, providing a variety of services that range from patient care to office and laboratory duties. And as the right hand to the dentist, the dental assistant strives to cultivate goodwill and confidence within the dental practice, whether among patients or their fellow team members.

As such, dental assistants should be able to listen to patients and know how to be sensitive to those in extreme pain or under mental stress. Dental assistants also need to be able to follow directions and protocols when helping a dentist or dental hygienist, as well as have excellent organizational skills and dexterity, since they generally work in tight quarters on a small part of the body, using very precise tools and instruments.

Specific duties performed by dental assistant include, but are not limited to:

  • Ensuring that patients are comfortable in the dental chair 
  • Preparing patients and the work area for treatments and procedures 
  • Sterilizing dental instruments 
  • Helping dentists by handing them instruments during procedures 
  • Keeping patients’ mouths dry by using suction hoses and other equipment 
  • Instructing patients in proper oral hygiene 
  • Processing x-rays and complete lab tasks, under the direction of a dentist 
  • Keeping records of dental treatments 
  • Scheduling patient appointments 
  • Working with patients on billing and payment

Many dental assistants learn their skills on the job, but a variety of community colleges, trade schools, technical institutions and the Armed Forces offer dental assisting programs. Dental assisting programs include classroom, laboratory and pre-clinical 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, while two-year programs offered in community or junior colleges lead to an associate degree. All programs require a high school diploma or its equivalent, and some may require a typing or science course for admission. 

In addition, some states require dental assistants to be licensed, registered or certified, which 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.

Learn how to jumpstart your career as a dental assistant.

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