Ever wonder whether the role of a dental assistant might be the right career option for you? Learning more about this position’s typical responsibilities, the required training, and career opportunities can help determine if you should start taking steps to obtain your degree and which route would work best for you. Let’s break it down, starting with what is a dental assistant?
Dental Assistants 101
You’ve likely seen a dental assistant performing a wide variety of tasks around an office. A sort of employee of all trades, a dental assisting career, requires you to interact with patients and handle technology that ensures the best service level. The role requires assisting dentists (bet you guessed that one) and hygienists alike with everything from sterilization practices to office management tasks.
With a mix of technical skills and interacting with clients, a dental assisting career offers variety and challenge. It is ideally suited to those who enjoy following a process and giving compassionate care.
What would I do as a dental assistant?
The technical side
Depending on the office, your day as a dental assistant will likely vary. But everyday responsibilities include: working with x-rays, assisting with procedures, and overseeing sterilization efforts and protocols. This role allows you to flex your technical abilities and be responsible for ensuring all tools are cleaned and cared for. Having organizational skills will be vital, especially when billing and ordering supplies to keep the practice stocked and running efficiently.
The people-person side
If you love helping others, this role requires plenty of face-to-face time with patients. Dental assistants are often the ones who settle patients into the exam rooms and ensure they’re comfortable. You’ll need to ask questions about medications and health concerns to keep medical records up to date for each appointment. This role gives you the chance to help ensure patients are taking the right steps to upkeep their oral health. Teaching aftercare techniques and demonstrating best brushing and flossing methods for all ages lets you act as a patients’ coach and cheerleader.
Some offices require dental assistants to follow up with patients to book the next appointments and other office tasks. Suppose you’re the type of person that loves to switch up your daily routine and pitch in wherever you’re needed. In that case, a dental assisting career might be the ‘perfect fit’ — which you’ll also help create when you take tooth impressions.
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What will I need for a dental assistant career?
Should you decide to follow this career path, there are multiple education and training options available. College-level education will give you the training required for this position’s technical and oral health knowledge requirements. The one year program needed to get your dental assistant degree is available at universities, dental colleges, community colleges, and technical schools. In the U.S. alone, there are over 270 programs accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA).
If you currently work at a dentist’s office, there are on-the-job training options and programs through high school work-study courses. Without a post-secondary education, these alternative certification routes require verification that you have received two years, full-time dental assistant specific training.
In many states, you will need certifications or licenses to perform all the duties of a dental assistant safely. Should you decide to specialize or become an educator, more education (typically an associate or baccalaureate degree) will be required.
Education requirements can vary by state, so be sure to check for dental assisting information for your specific area.
Where are the job opportunities for a dental assistant?
According to the ADA, the current demand for dental assistants is high. As dental offices grow, the benefits of having a skilled dentist assistant as an employee that can help with patients, supplies, and office management are incredibly beneficial. Because of this demand, there are often multiple full-time and part-time positions available. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a promising dental assistant job outlook, with an above-average growth rate of approximately 11% by 2028.
Many types of practices, including solo, group, and specialty practices, have dental assistants positions on their teams. But don’t forget to look at public health clinics, hospital dental clinics, or school clinics.
Who better to show others the benefits of this role than someone who has worked chairside?
With additional schooling, dental assistants can find employment at community college dental schools, universities, technical institutes, or vocational schools.
How do I know if dental assisting is right for me?
Consider your goals first. Do you want responsibility in your position for various tasks? Are you willing to jump in to help others wherever you’re needed? Do you enjoy working with people and find providing excellent care and service rewarding? You will need in-person and on the phone communication skills. Updating patient records, emailing suppliers, and using booking systems will mean you need to be comfortable and competent on a computer.
If the questions above got you excited about what a day on the job could look like, start looking into dental assisting career requirements in your area. You got this.
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