How to Become a Dental Assistant
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How to Become a Dental Assistant

If you are interested in working in dental healthcare, consider a career as a dental assistant (RDA). Learn more about this career path.

If you are interested in working in dental health care, consider a career as a dental assistant . A dental assistant is an integral member of the dental health team, providing a variety of services that range from patient care to office and laboratory duties.  Read on to learn about what it takes to become a dental assistant and the job outlook for these medical professionals.

What Does a Dental Assistant Do?

As the right hand to the dentist, the dental assistant strives to cultivate goodwill and confidence within the dental practice, whether among patients or their fellow team members. As such, dental assistants should be able to listen to patients and know how to be sensitive to those in extreme pain or under mental stress. Dental assistants also need to be able to follow directions and protocols when helping a dentist or dental hygienist, as well as have excellent organizational skills and dexterity, since they generally work in tight quarters on a small part of the body, using very precise tools and instruments.

 

Specific duties performed by dental assistant include, but are not limited to:

  • Ensuring that patients are comfortable in the dental chair
  • Preparing patients and the work area for treatments and procedures
  • Sterilizing dental instruments
  • Helping dentists by handing them instruments during procedures
  • Keeping patients’ mouths dry by using suction hoses and other equipment
  • Instructing patients in proper oral hygiene
  • Processing x-rays and complete lab tasks, under the direction of a dentist
  • Keeping records of dental treatments
  • Scheduling patient appointments
  • Working with patients on billing and payment

 

Dental assistants must be detail oriented and be able to follow specific rules and protocols when helping dentists treat patients. They must be good at working with their hands as they generally work in tight quarters on a small part of the body, using very precise tools and instruments. Dental assistants should be able to listen to patients and know how to be sensitive to patients are in extreme pain and/or mental stress. They also need to follow directions from a dentist or dental hygienist as well as have excellent organizational skills.

The Path to Becoming a Dental Assistant

Many dental assistants learn their skills on the job, but a variety of community colleges, trade schools, technical institutions and the Armed Forces offer dental assisting programs. 

Choosing a Dental Assisting Program

Dental assisting programs include classroom, laboratory and pre-clinical instruction in dental assisting skills and related theory. In addition, students may gain practical experience in dental schools, clinics or dental offices. Most programs take less than one year to complete and lead to a certificate or diploma, while two-year programs offered in community or junior colleges lead to an associate degree. All programs require a high school diploma or its equivalent, and some may require a typing or science course for admission. 

Getting Licensed and Certified

In addition, some states require dental assistants to be licensed, registered or certified, which may require passing a written or practical examination. States requiring licensure have a list of schools offering courses, usually less than one year in length. Some states require continuing education to maintain licensure.

 

National certifying organizations, such as American Medical Technologists (AMT), offer examinations for dental assistants to demonstrate that they meet certain standards of competence. Choosing a certifying body is just as important as choosing a school or dental assisting program. When you choose a certification that is rigorous and practical, you are showing employers and patients that they can trust your skills and knowledge. 

 

To get certified through AMT, you must meet certain eligibility criteria and pass an exam. Those who meet the requirements have an excellent chance of passing the certification exam. If you are interested in becoming certified through AMT as a dental assistant (RDA), visit our Dental Assistant page to determine if you are eligible.

Dental Assistant Job Outlook

Dental assistants held about 330,200 jobs in 2020. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of dental assistants is expected to grow by 11 percent from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations. Ongoing research linking oral health and general health will continue to increase the demand for preventive dental services. Dentists will continue to hire more dental assistants to complete routine tasks, allowing the dentist to see more patients in their practice and spend their time on more complex procedures. As dental practices grow, more dental assistants will be needed.

As the large baby boomer population ages, and as people keep more of their original teeth than did previous generations, the need to maintain and treat teeth will continue to increase the need for dental assistants.

Dental Assistant Salary

The median annual wage of dental assistants was $38,660 in May 2021, according to the BLS. The top 10 percent earned more than $59,540.

Want to Learn More?

Check out our blog post on AMT scholarships for eligible dental assisting students.

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