How To Become A Dental Assistant

If you enjoy working with people, are interested in oral health and dental care, and are looking for a career, consider becoming a dental assistant. After a short career certificate program and licensing exam, you can be on your way to becoming a dental assistant in less than a year. 

Learn more about how to become a dental assistant and the benefits of pursing this fast-growing career.

What Do Dental Assistants Do?

Dental assistants work in dental practices, performing a mix of administrative and clinical tasks, under the supervision of a dentist. While dental assistants often work directly with patients, don’t confuse them with dental hygienists. They help prepare patients for procedures or treatments but don’t clean patients’ teeth themselves.

Some of the clinical responsibilities of dental assistants include:

  • Preparing patients for x-rays
  • Drying patient’s mouths during or after a procedure
  • Sterilizing dental tools
  • Taking impressions of patients’ teeth for crowns or restorations

At some dental practices, assistants also perform administrative tasks. They may prepare dental records, schedule patient appointments, and collect payment and insurance information.

What Skills Do You Need to Be a Dental Assistant?

Dental assistants work with others, use their hands, and follow instructions from their supervisors. To succeed as a dental assistant, it’s useful to develop the following skills:

  • Listening: As a dental assistant, the dentist or hygienist you work with will likely give you instructions, telling you which x-rays to take or when to schedule a patient’s follow-up. You’ll also need to be good at listening to patients’ concerns and reporting those concerns back to the dentist or hygienist.
  • Interpersonal: Patients often fear going to the dentist or undergoing treatment on their teeth or gums. A dental assistant should have strong interpersonal skills to help calm and soothe patients. They also need to be able to work on a team and collaborate with their colleagues at the practice.
  • Manual dexterity: Being good with your hands as a dental assistant is important. You may need to maneuver in tight spaces, such as the back of the mouth, to take x-rays or create impressions of the teeth.
  • Organization: Dental assistants also often perform administrative tasks, so it’s important to have good organizational skills. You’ll need to keep track of patient records and schedules. You’ll need to keep the tools in order when assisting during a procedure.

Dental Assistant Training and License

To start the process of becoming a dental assistant, you’ll need to find a dental assistant school near you for a career certificate program. Orange Technical College has a dental assistant career certificate program at our East Campus. 

The program takes about 10 months full-time and prepares you to pass the Dental Assisting National Board Examination. Once you pass the exam, you earn certification as  Certified Dental Assistant (CDA).

While enrolled in dental assistant school, you’ll learn basic dental lab procedures, dental anatomy and terminology, patient and office management and much more. The program prepares you for a role as a dental assistant who can perform expanded functions, such as teeth polishing.

Find a Job as a Dental Assistant

You can start looking for dental assistant jobs once you have your career certificate and license. Your instructors can provide guidance and advice to help you find a job after you become licensed. The Dental Assisting National Board also has a job board that lists open positions.

To prepare for applying for jobs, create a resume that highlights your skills and any experience you have, such as internships you completed during training.

How Much Do Dental Assistants Make?

The median annual salary for dental assistants was $38,660 in May 2021. Dental assistants who worked for the government typically earned more than those who work for private practice dentists or physicians.

Dental assistants typically work full-time, 40 hour weeks, though some practices may allow for part-time schedules. While most work a standard 9-to-5 shift, some may work in the evenings or on Saturdays, depending on the opening hours of their practice. 

Job openings for dental assistants are expected to increase by 8% over the next 10 years, slightly faster than average. If you’re interested in pursuing a career as a dental assistant, contact Orange Technical College today to learn more about how to enroll in our career certificate program.