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What is Dental Assisting?
A career in dental assisting requires an individual to assist a dentist in the day to day operation of his or her practice, including patient intake, office work, surgery assistance and any other such tasks. Assistant will also be responsible for preparation and cleanup of facilities prior to and after procedures. The role of the assistant and the specific duties he or she may take on are dictated by state regulation, with more involved roles often requiring additional education or certification. As a medical profession, individuals working in this field should be familiar with terminology and procedure.
A degree in dental assistance qualifies an individual to aid dentists in their daily operations, including office work, sterilization, and acquisition of patient history and information. Certificate, diploma and associate's degrees are available to those wishing to pursue an education leading to a dental assisting job. Students who wish to enroll in such a program will become familiarized with a dental setting, including daily operations, operation assistance, terminology and customer service. Individuals will work along with dentists to ensure that patient care is properly delivered, and as such will also be educated in the process of taking patient histories and the retrieval of past information and documents.
Participants of certificate or diploma program will normally finish their program with a year. Individuals in associate programs will generally have two years of study prior to completion due to the addition of general education courses in the curriculum. Dental assisting programs resulting in an associate degree are rarer than diploma or certificate programs, and generally only found at community colleges. Dental Assisting programs are becoming more popular due to increased demand making them readily available for interested individuals.
Classes one may encounter in a dental assistant program:
- Dental Radiology
- Human Relations
- Preventive Dentistry
- Emergency Management
- Dental Office Management
Though it is not necessary to have a degree or diploma to obtain work, the tasks and increasing responsibilities of dental assistants has created a demand for skilled/trained individuals. Job growth for dental assistants is expected to increase over the next few years. Most states do not require a license to work as a dental assistant, though the duties performed are regulated by each state. Certification may be obtained in some states to increase the duties a dental assistant may perform. Individuals interested in dental assisting should research their state's rules and regulations governing the profession, particularly if certification or licensure is required to work.
Job Growth, Salary and Related Fields
Dental assisting is expected to grow fairly quickly over the next decade as the demand for preventative dental care increases. As a result dentists will hire more assistants to take on routine and simple tasks and basic patient care, allowing the dentist to see more patients and focus on more complex procedures. Additionally, the current aging population has kept more of their original teeth than those of the same age in previous generations resulting in a need for more dental care among older generations.
The average salary for a dental assistant is $32,500, with the lowest 10% earning less than $22,250. As an assistant position the opportunity for career mobility is limited, as promotion to supervisory positions do not really exist. Individuals with work experience will be in the upper spectrum of pay, often having worked with the same dentist or dental group for an extended period of time.
For additional information on a future in the dentistry field, read our comprehensive career guide on our blog which includes job duties, common treatments, educational requirements, dental specialties, and job outlook information for dentists, dental hygienists, dental assistants, and dental lab technicians.