Working as a dental assistant is an amazing job for the right person. You can work anywhere in the country, with opportunities always available, and enjoy the satisfaction that comes from a role where you’re really helping people. You’ll get a decent wage, health cover, and a role that gives you the chance to keep building up your skills over time. With lots of different tasks for you to do, this is a role that never gets dull and will let you make ample use of your talents.
What does a dental assistant do?
Unlike a dental hygienist – the two roles often being confused – a dental assistant doesn’t work directly on patients’ teeth. Instead, this role is about assisting a dentist. There are various forms that this assistance can take. It can be administrative: booking appointments, managing schedules, keeping records and ordering supplies. It can be supportive: reassuring worried patients and helping children prepare for treatment. It can also be clinical: passing instruments to the dentist, or applying suction to patient’ mouths to prevent them from choking. Other common tasks include processing dental x-rays, sterilizing instruments and applying topical anesthetic (without injections). This means that dental assistants need to be good all-rounders.
What makes a good dental assistant? Physically, you will need to have good dexterity so that you can provide suction for patients without getting in the dentist’s way. You’ll need to be well organized and diligent because you’ll be responsible for numerous administrative tasks. You’ll also need good interpersonal skills for working with patients. If you have counselling experience, this is a definite plus, but simply being a good listener with a sympathetic approach goes a long way.
There are two different types of qualification you can get to prepare you for becoming a dental assistant. Neither is strictly necessary but they will help you to secure training, which is, and they will give you a deeper understanding of the role, improving your options going forward. One is a diploma which you can take in a single year. The other is an associate’s degree which takes two years to complete. If you check out the Bryant and Stratton profile you can find out more about related courses – Bryant and Stratton count healthcare among their specialties.
The subjects you will cover on a course like this include administration, oral anatomy and pharmacology, and you may also learn about radiography. After you’ve qualified as a dental assistant and spent some time in the role, gaining experience, you may want to take further courses so that you have the option of moving into other areas like dental hygiene.
Training on the job
Whether or not you graduate with a diploma or associate’s degree, you will need to do on the job training before you’re fully recognized as a dental assistant. In fact, you can qualify on the basis of training alone if you can find a dentist who is willing to take you on and get you through this stage. Some dentists do this when a trusted assistant is preparing to retire or leave for some other reason, because they like to have someone to assist them who is highly attuned to their individual ways of working. You can always expect to receive first aid training as this is important in case something goes wrong when a patient is being treated.
Once you have completed your education or training you will normally be required to take an exam overseen by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) so that you can earn a CDA certificate, recognizing you as a Certified Dental Assistant. This is recognized in most states and will make it easy for you to find work wherever you go. Most states require dental assistants to have certification of some kind. In some you will require an additional license in order to be allowed to carry out x-rays and any related work involving radioactive materials. Each state has its own Board of Dental Examiners which can provide details of its specific requirements. You don’t need to be fully certified when carrying out a limited number of tasks under supervision as a trainee.
Once you are fully qualified and certified, you’ll find that there are lots of opportunities open to you as a dental assistant. This is a fascinating and rewarding field with plentiful employment opportunities and good employee retention rates. It’s well worth the effort to make it your career.