Dental assistants are individuals who contribute so much to the dental team. They are qualified by completing a post-high school program at a community college, vocational school, technical institute, university, or dental school. Certificates are usually received upon graduation from these programs. Dental assistants perform many tasks from caring for patients to office and laboratory duties.

They can also advance into other areas of specialization, such as research associate, educator, dental lab technician, dental hygienist, and even dentist. Most academic dental assisting programs take from 9-11 months to complete; however, some schools offer accelerated training, part-time education programs, or training via distance education.

What Do Dental Assistants Need to Know?

If you have an interest in a career as a dental assistant, you should have interests in science, human anatomy, dental problems, and treatments. Exemplary dental assistants should be able to communicate effectively, exhibit acceptable manual dexterity, have good problem-solving skills, and be willing to work as part of a team.

A list of courses which may be included in your program can include:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Chemistry
  • Microbiology
  • Psychology
  • Dental head and neck anatomy
  • Intro to the dental profession
  • Dental materials
  • Dental specialties
  • Medical emergencies
  • Dental science
  • Dental radiology
  • Dental health education
  • Clinical assisting

A dental assistant will also learn specific things that are unique to the practice where he or she will work. Each dental office will have their own way of doing things, handling patient flow, paperwork, task management and more. Being flexible and teachable are two vital characteristics that will benefit any dental assistant as they begin, and as they continue to grow their skills and experience. 

 What Are Dental Assistants Expected to Do?

Dental assistants perform any number of important tasks in the dental office, according to their skills and the needs of the dentist and his or her team. This can range from paperwork, educating or assisting patients, inventory, preparing treatment rooms, appointment arrangements, preparing dental insurance claims, processing X-rays, sterilizing instruments, and a host of other tasks as needed. 

The dental assistant is more of a generalist than a specialist. This does not mean they are not a valuable part of the team. In fact, dental assistants are a vital part of any dental office because they can perform such a wide variety of essential tasks. This helps the entire practice operate smoothly, improving patient care and increasing revenue. 

 What Are Common Working Conditions Like for a Dental Assistant?

Nearly half of dental assistants work a 35 to 40 hour work week. They work in a well-lit and clean environment. They may work in a number of different settings where dental assistants are needed, including:

  • Private dental offices
  • Group practices
  • Hospitals
  • Insurance companies
  • Dental suppliers
  • Dental manufacturing companies
  • Armed services
  • Educational institutions
  • Public health facilities

A dental assistant’s work area is often beside the dental chair, and they prepare and arrange dental instruments, materials and medications and hand them over to the dentist as needed. They must follow safety procedures to minimize their exposure to bloodborne pathogens and infectious diseases, so they wear gloves, masks, eyewear and protective clothing to protect themselves and their patients. This also decreases the risks associated with radiographic equipment. 

 What is the Salary Range of a Dental Assistant? 

The median pay of a dental assistant that is certified and registered or licensed is $19.80 per hour. Various factors affect salary considerations, such as where you live and experience. Some employers offer incentives like uniform allowances, continuing education, professional dues reimbursement, health benefits and pension plans.

Future projections for dental assistants indicates a continuance of high demand and a stable job market. Other benefits to a career in dental assisting includes:

  • Opportunities for career advancement
  • Gainful employment
  • Good hourly wages
  • Good working environment
  • Flexible hours
  • Working as a member of a health care delivery team
  • Ability to help others

As a dental assistant, once you have received your certificate, you can consider whether you want or need to become certified. You have to sit for an exam testing your knowledge to become certified. Dental assistants can take the Dental Assisting National Board’s (DANB) Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) Exam to obtain a nationally recognized certification. You may also want to consider obtaining a degree beyond the certificate level. Some associate or baccalaureate degree programs transfer credits from dental assisting programs.

Requirements to become a dental assistant vary from state to state. One of the most comprehensive resources available to you concerning state requirements and DANB exams and certifications can be found at Click on the link to find the search by state map for more information.

SPS Dental Academy offers a formal Dental Assisting Certificate program which meets the needs of the dental workforce. They offer the most efficient and affordable program that helps students looking into a career in the dental field become successful. Their program is designed by a dentist for dentists. Request a consultation and enroll now!