Dental assistants have many tasks, ranging from patient care to record keeping, in a dental office. Their duties vary by state/province and by the dentists’ offices where they work. Almost all dental assistants work in dentists' offices.
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Assistants who do lab tasks, such as making casts of a patient’s teeth, work under the direction of a dentist. They might prepare materials for a cast of teeth or create temporary crowns. Some responsibilities of a dental assistant include:
All dental assistants do tasks such as helping dentists with procedures and keeping patient records, but there are four regulated tasks that assistants may also be able to do, depending on the state where they work, including:
There are several possible paths to becoming a dental assistant. Some states and provinces require assistants to graduate from an accredited program and possibly pass a state exam. In other states, there are no formal educational requirements. Most states regulate what dental assistants may do, but that varies. Accredited programs include classroom and laboratory work in which students learn about teeth, gums, jaws, and other areas that dentists work on and the instruments that dentists use. These programs also include supervised, practical experience. On-the-job training often is required regardless of what educational path a dental assistant takes.
Dentists have their own ways of doing things, and their assistants may need time to become comfortable working with them. Dental assistants who do not get formal education learn their duties through on-the-job training. The dentist or other dental assistants in the office teach the new assistant dental terminology, the names of the instruments, how to do daily tasks, how to interact with patients, and other activities necessary to help keep the dental office running smoothly. Although some job duties are easy to learn, others may take a few months before new dental assistants are knowledgeable about and comfortable doing all their tasks without help.
Dental assistants must follow specific rules and protocols to help dentists treat a patient. Dental assistants must work closely with dentists and patients. Sometimes patients are in extreme pain or mental stress, and the assistant must be sensitive to their emotions. Dental assistants must have good listening skills. They need to follow directions from a dentist or dental hygienist so they can help treat patients and do tasks such as taking an x ray. Dental assistants must have excellent organizational skills. They should have the correct tools in place for a dentist or dental hygienist to use when treating a patient.
Almost all dental assistants work in dentists' offices. Dental assistants work under the supervision of dentists and may work closely with dental hygienists in their day-to-day activities.
The median annual wage of dental assistants was $33,470 in May 2010. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $22,680, and the top 10 percent earned more than $47,090.