Dental assistants greatly increase the efficiency of the dentist in the delivery of quality oral health care. 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.
The American Dental Association notes that the duties of a dental assistant are among the most comprehensive and varied in the dental office. The dental assistant performs many tasks requiring both interpersonal and technical skills. Although state regulations vary, responsibilities may include:
- assisting the dentist during a variety of treatment procedures
- taking and developing dental radiographs (x-rays)
- asking about the patient's medical history and taking blood pressure and pulse
- serving as an infection control officer, developing infection control protocol and preparing and sterilizing instruments and equipment
- helping patients feel comfortable during dental treatment
- providing patients with instructions for oral care following surgery or other dental treatment procedures
- teaching patients appropriate oral hygiene strategies to maintain oral health
- taking impressions of patients' teeth for study casts
- performing office management tasks that often require the use of a personal computer
- communicating with patients and suppliers (e.g., scheduling appointments, answering the telephone, billing and ordering supplies)
- helping to provide direct patient care in all dental specialties
The types of practice settings available to dental assistants include:
- solo dental practices
- group practices
- specialty practices, such as oral and maxillofacial surgery
- public health dentistry, including settings such as schools and clinics
- hospital dental clinics
- dental school clinics
- insurance companies, processing dental insurance claims
- vocational schools, technical institutes, community colleges, dental schools and universities, teaching others to be dental assistants (which may require associate or baccalaureate college degrees)
- dental product sales representatives
Dental assistants receive their education through academic programs at community colleges, vocational schools, technical institutes, universities or dental schools. Graduates usually receive certificates. Although most academic dental assisting programs take nine to eleven months to complete, some schools offer accelerated training, part-time education programs or training via distance education.
For a list of accredited Dental Assisting programs, contact:
Commission on Dental Accreditation,
211 E. Chicago Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611
American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA)
35 E. Wacker Dr.
Chicago, Illinois 60601-2211
Dental Assisting National Board, Inc. (DANB)
444 N. Michigan Ave.
Chicago, Illinois 60611
The Commission on Dental Accreditation of the American Dental Association is responsible for accrediting dental assisting programs.
Most dental assistants who choose to become nationally certified take the Dental Assisting National Board's (DANB) Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) examination. Becoming a Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) assures the public that the dental assistant is prepared to assist competently in the provision of dental care.
Dental assistants are eligible to take the CDA examination if they have completed a dental assisting program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. Individuals who have been trained on the job or have graduated from non-accredited programs are eligible to take the national certification examination after they have completed two years of full-time work experience as dental assistants. Some states also recognize passage of components of the CDA examination, such as the Radiation Health and Safety examination, or the Infection Control examination, for licensing and regulatory purposes.
In addition to the voluntary national certification examination offered by the Dental Assisting National Board, some states require dental assistants to be registered. For more information on the type of education, training or registration dental assistants must have in your state, contact your state board of dental examiners. In Ohio, the board can be contacted through www.dental.ohio.gov/. Other state boards can be found at www.dentalwatch.org/org/boards.html.