What is a Dental Assistant?
Dental assistants prepare patients for treatments and teeth cleanings, plus sterilize instruments. You may think every scrub-wearing worker in the dentist’s office is either a dentist or dental hygienist. Some of them are, but some of the other professionals performing integral tasks in running the office and facilitating care are actually dental assistants. They often assist dentists during procedures by using suction equipment to clear patients’ mouths. Dental assistants might also process oral X-rays and help maintain patient records. Depending on their licensing and certification, dental assistants might help with fluoride and sealant applications and polishing teeth and dentures.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there should be more than 58,000 new openings for dental assistants up to the year 2024. That amounts to 18 percent employment growth, which is much faster than the average for all professions. There are several reasons for the increased openings, including the fact that current generations take better care of their teeth than either their parents or their grandparents, and they regularly visit a dental office. Expanded health insurance coverage has also led to more patients, which should drive the demand for dental assistants in dentists’ offices and outpatient care centers.
58600NUMBER OF JOBS
How Much Does a Dental Assistant Make?
The pay scale for dental assistants ranges from about $24,950 to $50,660. In 2015, the average pay for dental assistants was $36,920, and the median pay was $35,980.
What Type of Education Do Dental Assistants Need?
Dental assistant is one of the few jobs we cover that doesn’t necessarily require formal training. But it should, says Claudia Pohl, former president of the American Dental Assistant Association and a veteran in the field with more than 35 years of experience.
“The responsibilities of dental assistants are expanding, partially to facilitate more people getting access to care in this country when they can’t afford to visit a dentist,” Pohl says. “It’s not in patients’ best interests to receive treatment from someone who isn’t fully qualified.”
Check your state’s requirements to know the training, certification and licensing you’ll need to begin work. An accredited program lasts for one to two years. For certification, a dental assistant must pass the Certified Dental Assistant exam administered by the Dental Assisting National Board.
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Working as a dental assistant is also an excellent launching pad to become a dental hygienist or dentist. The licensing and training are slightly different for each of those positions, but the experience an assistant receives while working with patients, learning safety procedures and navigating the logistics of a dental office could be particularly beneficial for advancing in the dentistry field.