How To Start A Dental Assistant Career

Dental assistants do many tasks, including record keeping and patient care, in a dental practice. Their duties vary by the dental offices they work in and by the state.  Some of the duties they usually do include the following:

  • Sterilizing dental equipment
  • Helping dentists by giving them tools during procedures
  • Making patients comfortable in the chair and preparing them for procedures and treatments
  • Teaching patients about proper dental hygiene
  • Preparing the patient’s treatment work area by arranging instruments and materials
  • Keeping the mouths of patients dry through the use of suction hoses and other equipment
  • Scheduling patient appointments
  • Working on patients’ billing and payment
  • Storing records of dental procedures
  • Processing  x-rays and doing lab duties under the supervision of a dentist

Work environment

Dental assistants support dentists as they treat patients. Almost every dental assistant works in a dentist’s office. They work under a dentist and can work directly with a dental hygienist in their daily activities.

Dental assistants wear surgical masks, safety glasses, gloves, and protective clothing to protect patients and themselves from communicable diseases. They must also observe certain safety procedures to reduce the risks linked to x-ray equipment.

Work schedules

Almost all dental assistants work on a full-time basis. However, a good number also work part-time. Some work on weekends or evenings, depending on the workplace’s hours of operation.

How do you become a dental assistant?

There are many possible ways to become a dental assistant. In some states, one is required to finish an accredited dental assistant program and probably pass a state examination. Other states don’t require assistants to have formal education. These assistants may learn their tasks through the on-job-training. Other dental assistants or the dentist in the office teaches the new assistant how to perform  day-to-day tasks, dental terminology, the names of dental instruments, how to communicate with patients, as well as other activities needed to keep the dental practice running efficiently. Most states control what assistants can do, but this varies by state.


High school students who want to become dental assistants should pursue courses in biology, anatomy, and chemistry. Some states require dental assistants to finish an accredited dental assisting program and maybe pass a state test. Most programs take around a year to finish and are offered at community colleges, leading to a diploma or a certificate. Community colleges also offer 2-year programs, which result in an associate’s degree but they’re less common.

Accredited programs include lab and classroom work where students learn about gums, teeth, jaws, as well as other areas treated by dentists and the instruments they use.  These programs also involve supervised, practical experience.

Some states don’t require formal educational requirements for one to become a dental assistant.  You should contact your local board of dentistry to know their specific requirements.


Some states require that dental assistants get certified, but requirements vary from state to state. To become certified, an assistant must pass the CDA or certified dental assistant examination from DANB (dental assisting national board). To take the test, one must have finished an accredited dental assisting program or graduated from high school and finished the requisite amount of training while on the job.  Applicants must also be in possession of current certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).


In some states, dental assistants are required to register with DANB or get licensed to complete regulated duties like coronal polishing in the dentist’s office, but requirements vary from state to state.  Call the board of dentistry in your state to know their specific requirements.

Dental assistant job outlook

The employment of assistants is projected to grow by 31% from 2010 through to 2020, which is a much faster rate than all other occupations.  Entry-level positions are expected to be plentiful, particularly for graduates of diploma programs.

There are several reasons for this huge projection in growth. Individuals are living longer. Therefore, as the population continues to grow the demand for trained professionals in oral healthcare will increase. Also as individuals learn more about preventative dental care and its benefits, others who haven’t traditionally visited a dentist are expected to follow suit in the next ten years. This will lead to more and more dental assistants being employed by dentists.

Furthermore, as the workload of dentists continues to increase they’ll likely employ more dental assistants so they can devote their attention and time to more complex procedures.

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