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Dental Assistant Job Description, Career as a Dental Assistant, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: High school or dental assisting program

Salary: Median—$13.62 per hour

Employment Outlook: Excellent

Definition and Nature of the Work

Dental assistants perform a number of duties in a dentist's office. Some of their tasks may be clerical. Dental assistants with office duties schedule appointments, keep records, receive payments from patients, and order supplies. When patients come to the office, dental assistants locate their medical records for the dentist's use.

Dental assistants prepare patients for the dentist's examination. In addition, they perform chair-side duties, such as handing the dentist the proper materials and tools. They operate the suction hose that keeps the patient's mouth dry so the dentist can work on it. Dental assistants often operate X-ray machines. Sometimes dental assistants make an impression of a patient's mouth or teeth. They may also sterilize instruments, develop X-rays, and mix compounds for cleaning or filling teeth.

Most dental assistants work in private offices for one or more dentists. Other assistants work in public health departments, clinics, hospitals, and dental schools.

Education and Training Requirements

Dental assistants need a high school diploma. Courses in biology, chemistry, health, and office practices are helpful. Many dental assistants learn their skills on the job.

An increasing number of dental assistants receive training in dental assisting programs at colleges, vocational schools, and technical institutes. Students are given classroom, laboratory, and preclinical instruction. The Commission on Dental Accreditation within the American Dental Association (ADA) approved 265 dental-assisting training programs in 2005. These are generally one- or two-year programs that lead to a certificate or to an associate's degree. Graduates of accredited programs can become licensed or registered dental assistants if they meet the requirements of their states.

Getting the Job

If you go to school to learn to be a dental assistant, the placement office can help you find a job. You can also apply directly to dentists' offices, hospitals, and A dental assistant performs chair-side duties that include handing the dentist the proper tools and operating the suction hose that keeps the patient's mouth dry. (Photograph by Kelly A. Quin. Thomson Gale. Reproduced by permission.) private clinics. To get a job with the government, apply to take the necessary civil service test. Check with state and private employment agencies. Also check newspaper want ads and job banks on the Internet.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Dental assistants can advance with experience and further training. In a large dental office, they may become supervisors of other assistants. By taking further dental courses, they can qualify to become dental hygienists or dental laboratory technicians.

The outlook is excellent through the year 2014, with employment expected to grow much faster than average. More assistants should be needed as the field of dental care continues to grow. In addition to new jobs being created, assistants will be needed to replace those who retire. Expanding population, the growing awareness of the importance of dental care, and increasing availability of dental insurance should also add to the demand for dental assistants.

Working Conditions

Most dental offices are comfortable and clean. Dental assistants deal with many kinds of people. They may have to comfort frightened children or calm worried parents. They must also be careful in their work, especially when handling X-ray and dental equipment.

Dental assistants generally work forty hours a week. Some work part time. Assistants are often expected to work on Saturdays.

Where to Go for More Information

American Dental Assistants Association
35 E. Wacker Dr., Ste. 1730
Chicago, IL 60601-2211
(312) 541-1550

American Dental Association
211 E. Chicago Ave.
Chicago, IL 60611-2678
(312) 440-2500

National Association of Dental Assistants
900 S. Washington St., Ste.
G13 Falls Church, VA 22046-4020
(703) 237-8616

Earnings and Benefits

Dental assistants earn a median wage of $13.62 per hour. Benefits usually include paid holidays and vacations. Other benefits vary, depending on the employer. Publicly employed dental assistants generally receive the same benefits as other hospital or health agency workers.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesHealth & Medicine