How to Start a Career as a Dental Assistant
People’s understanding of health and wellness has improved considerably over the past few decades. And, it’s likely to continue to improve thanks to advances in technology and an increased emphasis on public health awareness.
One area where there’s evidence of increased awareness and understanding is in the field of dentistry. In recent years, research has made a connection between the health of the mouth and the overall health of the body. Keeping the teeth and gums healthy is an important part of keeping the entire body healthy. As a result, opportunities for people in the field of dentistry are expected to increase at much faster rate than in other fields over the next decade.
The demand for dental assistants is expected to grow by 11% between now and 2028. If you’re interested in working in the dental field, learn more about the role of a dental assistant and what steps you can take to start your career.
What Dental Assistants Do
Many people confuse dental hygienists with dental assistants, but the roles are different and distinct. While a hygienist is responsible for cleaning the teeth and examining a person’s mouth, a dental assistant plays a more administrative role.
As a dental assistant, you might be responsible for scheduling appointments and managing billing, as well as for maintaining patient records. Although you won’t be cleaning teeth, you will have some direct interaction with patients during the course of your day. You’ll likely help to take X-rays of a patient’s teeth and gums, sterilize any tools used by the dentist and hold the suction hose to help keep patients’ mouths dry during a procedure.
Some dental assistant tasks you’ll perform under the direct supervision of a dentist, such as taking impressions of people’s teeth.
Once you start a career as a dental assistant, you can typically expect to work full-time, 9-to-5. Depending on when the practice you work for is open, you might work on weekends or during the evenings, too.
Skills You Can Use as a Dental Assistant
Having a certain set of skills, or being able to develop some skills, can come in handy as you start your career. Being a dental assistant usually requires a mix of administrative skills and interpersonal skills.
For example, it helps to be very organized. Part of your job will be to make sure the tools a dentist needs to perform a specific procedure are in the right place, at the right time. It helps to know where things are and to have a system so that tools and files are easy to track down.
Since dental assistants work with patients, it’s important to be a people-person and to have empathy. Some patients have a genuine fear of going to the dentist. It’s helpful to be aware of that fear and to understand where patients might be coming from.
It’s also important for a dental assistant to have good attention-to-detail and listening skills. You want to be able to really hear what patients are telling you, so you can report any concerns back to the dentist accurately. It’s also essential that you’re able to listen to and follow any instructions a dentist gives you throughout the day.
Training to Become a Dental Assistant
If you’re interested in becoming a dental assistant, you can enroll in a career certificate program in dental assisting after you graduate from high school or pass the GED. The career certificate program at Orange Technical College takes 10 months, full-time.
Training will focus on subjects such as anatomy, dental terms, microbiology, basic dental lab procedures, office and patient management and developing employability skills.
When you finish the program, you will receive the Florida Expanded Functions Certificate and will need to take the Dental Assisting National Board Examination to become a certified dental assistant.
What You Can Do in Your Career
For many people, becoming a dental assistant is just the first step along a fulfilling career path in dentistry. After you begin working as a dental assistant, you might find that your interests and skills are in one particular area, such as office management, lab work or working directly with patients. From there, you might decide to move into a purely administrative or lab-based role, or you might decide to focus on patient care.
If you decide that you like working directly with patients the most, you might consider enrolling in a dental hygienist associate’s degree program. Up to nine credits from your career certificate program at Orange Technical College can be transferred to the hygienist AS program at Valencia College.
If you’re curious about health and wellness and want a stable, engaging career that helps others, becoming a dental assistant might be the perfect option for you.
- “Dental Assistants,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-assistants.htm#tab-6
- “Florida State Requirements,” Dental Assisting National Board, https://www.danb.org/Meet-State-Requirements/State-Specific-Information/Florida.aspx