Becoming Dental Assistant

In the field of medicine, doctors have nurses to assist them in their routine tasks and responsibilities. When it comes to dental care, dentists have their own version of a nurse and they are referred to as a dental assistant. As with any dental establishment, the dental assistant plays a vital role together with the dentist in providing quality and more efficient dental care. It is important to understand that a dental assistant must not be confused with a dental hygienist, as the latter performs a different role and undergoes a higher level of education and comprehensive training.

A dental assistant’s role in the dental office generally comprises of a combination of patient care, office work and laboratory duties. Among their most common duties include obtaining patient records, preparation of a patient for treatment, sterilization and preparation of dental instruments and assisting in dental procedures. They may also be tasked with developing dental radiographs, making casts from impressions of the teeth and mouth, and fabricating temporary crowns. It is not uncommon for dental assistants to be given maintenance duties such as cleaning and disinfecting of work areas.

When it comes to dental assistant training, skills are usually learned while working on the job. Depending on the dentist they are employed with, they may be given lessons in dental terminologies, instruments and procedures, as well as training on patient assistance and office maintenance. Today, dental assistant programs are also offered by many colleges, technical institutes, and dental assistant schools as well. Students who opt to receive formal education may acquire a certificate or diploma after completing a program for approximately one year. A more comprehensive two-year associate degree program is also available in some community and junior colleges.

Even for students who have acquired a degree as a dental assistant, on-the-job training is still an important requirement that must be met. This is important to help aspiring dental assistants to have a first-hand experience on how actual work is done. It also gives them the opportunity to put into practice everything they have learned from their program. On-the-job training also helps dental assistants to be updated with the ever-changing technology of dental medicine, particularly with dental instruments and procedures.

Although many states will usually allow dental assistants to work in the field even without formal education and training, some will require licensure or certification, especially when it comes to performing more complex tasks such as radiological procedures. In order to receive licensure or certification, you must first complete a dental assistant program that is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation of the American Dental Association. After completion of the program, you must also successfully complete or pass the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) in order to become a Certified Dental Assistant or CDA.

Dental assistant jobs are expected grow at a rate of 36 percent from 2008 to 2018. The increase in demand for dental assistants may be attributed to population growth, increased awareness of younger individuals on oral care, and the increasing workloads of dentists. Dental assistants can also expect excellent employment opportunities as more dentists need their help in providing quality dental care. Although it may be easy to land a job in an entry-level position, you can have better employment opportunities if you have completed an accredited program and are licensed or certified.

Dental assistant salary is pretty much respectable, with an average figure of $32,380 in May 2008 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The lowest annual salaries, on the other hand, were at $22,270 and $46,150 respectively. Salaries usually range anywhere from $11 to $20 per hour, depending to the scope of work and place of employment.