How to Become a Dental Assistant
Do you like the idea of working with people, being a part of a team, and knowing that you make a difference in their well-being? Are you detail-oriented? Are you fascinated by the importance of caring for teeth and like the idea of assisting in surgical procedures? Then a career as a dental assistant might be the perfect fit.
What Do Dental Assistants Do?
Think of a dental assistant as a dentist’s right-hand man – or woman!
A dental assistant’s primary purpose is to help dentists provide better care for patients.1 You might be handing the dentist the right tools, assisting with porcelain veneers, or making … perhaps all in one day.
Although there are many ways in which a dental assistant helps out, they all boil down to helping people.
A typical day for a dental assistant may include:
- Working along side a dentist or hygienist during patient treatments and procedures
- Taking x-rays
- Helping patients to relax and feel comfortable throughout appointments
- Teaching patients proper oral hygiene
- Preparing and sterilizing dental instruments before and after procedure
- Scheduling appointments, taking phone calls, and other office duties
As you can see, being a dental assistant is a rewarding job with a lot of variation, which reduces the chances of boredom on the job.
These and other tasks also allow dental assistants to work with people in a meaningful way. Research suggests that sense of meaning and purpose is an important career reward that keeps people happy in their jobs.2
Where do Dental Assistants Work?
A dental assistant usually works in a dental office. They may also work at a school or in a hospital or other institution, providing dental services to students, patients or residents at these facilities.
A typical dental office may consist of one or more dentists, plus one or more assistants.
Other types of specialty dental practices need dental assistants as well, including orthodontists, pediatric dentists (who specialize in treating children), and dental surgeons.
Such variety allows for flexibility in hours. Some dental assistants work full-time, while others work part-time, depending on the needs of the office or facility.3
What is the Job Demand?
Although job prospects of any profession are notoriously hard to predict with a high degree of accuracy, government statistics predict employment of dental assistants to grow 25 percent from 2012 to 2022, which is much faster than the average for all occupations.4
This implies there are plenty of job opportunities in this career. Many people are taking better care of their teeth than ever before, and dental assistants will play a big role in providing that care.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Dental Assistant?
Fortunately, it doesn’t take years of schooling to become a dental assistant. Community colleges and vocational or technical schools often offer programs that take about a year or less to complete. You can also find accelerated dental assistant schools that pack a lot of training into a shorter amount of time. A few programs are two years in length and will earn you an associate’s degree.5
If you are in high school, you can start by taking classes in biology, chemistry, and anatomy. After that, there are different requirements, depending on the state in which you plan to live and work.
Most states require a diploma from a formal training program at a community college, vocational or technical school. You may also need to pass a state dental assistant exam. You can find out your state’s requirements with a little research, then start looking for the training program you will need.
Once you are hired, you’ll undergo some on-the-job training as well. You will need to use your people skills, such as good listening and communication, as you work with patients, dentists, and other staff members. You will also need to be organized and detail-oriented on the job. You will be an important part of the dental care team and will want to take this responsibility seriously.