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A dental assistant has many tasks in a dental office, and their duties vary by state/province and by the dentists’ offices where they work. Typically, a dental assistant will either work to support office operations, work in dental labs, or work under the supervision of a dentist who treats patients.
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:
- removing soft deposits such as plaque, giving teeth a cleaner appearance
- painting a thin, plastic substance over teeth that seals out food particles and acid-producing bacteria to keep teeth from developing cavities
- applying fluoride directly on the teeth as another anti-cavity measure
Topical Anesthetics Application - some dental assistants may be qualified to apply topical anesthetic to an area of the patient’s mouth, temporarily numbing the area
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.
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.
It takes a relatively short period of time to become a dental assistant. Dental assistants receive their formal education through academic programs at community colleges, vocational schools, technical institutes, universities or dental schools.
There are three options - a one-year certificate or diploma training program, or a two-year associate's degree in community or technical college, (after graduating high school), or via on-the-job training.
As a dental assistant, you have so many options to grow professionally and expand your career. The biggest challenge you’ll have is figuring out where you want to grow.
If you are seeking a rewarding career in the health industry and would like to keep your period of education reasonable, you may want to explore becoming a dental assistant. This is a great way to begin a career in the dental field, and the training to become a Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) is relatively short (approximately 10 months long).
Michelle Schooley has always had a slight obsession with teeth, due to having teeth problems throughout her life. So when a friend raved about how much she loved being a dental assistant, that was all the motivation Michelle needed to enrol in a dental-assisting program during her senior year in high school.
Dental Assistants share their stories on how they came into the profession.
The dental assistant is the most critical link between the patient and the dentist before, during, and after treatment. The person in this position plays a principal role in the successful delivery of treatment.
Dental assistants greatly increase the efficiency of the dentist in the delivery of quality oral health care and are valuable members of the dental care team. If you have strong communication skills, enjoy working with your hands as well as your mind and want a career with responsibility, dental assisting is for you.