What is a Dental Assistant?

A dental assistant must be familiar with a variety of dental equipment and tools.

A dental assistant is usually a junior employee who works closely with a professional dentist. The duties of a dental assistant may include arranging appointments, sterilizing and organizing instruments, following up on patients, taking x-rays, and performing routine office work. Many high school vocational programs offer training to become a dental assistant, although formal education is not always a requirement. Some dentists train a dental assistant for the job.

Many states require additional certification for a dental assistant to operate an x-ray machine.

The responsibilities of a dental assistant can vary from office to office. Many states require additional certification and training before a dental assistant can operate an X-ray machine, for example. In general, a dental assistant is not authorized to perform any surgical procedure on a patient. In most cases, an effective dental assistant acts as an extra pair of hands for the dentist during a procedure, vacuuming up excess saliva or perhaps providing instruments. Cleanings are often done by trained dental hygienists, who often attend college-level vocational courses.

Dental assistants are typically trained in the administration of dental radiographs.

A dental assistant may also spend time comforting patients, especially young children. This may require exceptional human relationship skills and the ability to work under stressful conditions. A successful dental assistant must also be very professional when scheduling appointments and resolving patient questions and concerns.

The starting salary of a dental assistant is generally low for a job in the medical field. An entry-level dental assistant without x-ray certification can earn as little as $8 to $12 an hour, based on the size and location of the dental center. Promotion of a dental assistant may be limited to office manager or a seniority position among co-workers. For any significant chance of career advancement, a dental assistant may consider training as a dental hygienist or entering dental school.

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Like many other mid-level jobs in the medical field, the dental assistant position is in great demand. Turnover rates can be high as workers look for more responsible positions elsewhere. Becoming a dental assistant out of a high school vocational program is a distinct possibility. Some private educational institutions and community colleges also offer training in the field of dental care.

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