Dental assistants perform a variety of patient care, office, and laboratory duties. They sterilize and disinfect instruments and equipment, layout instruments and prepare materials required to treat each patient, and obtain and update patients’ dental records. Dental assistants make patients comfortable in the dental chair and prepare them for treatment. During dental procedures, assistants work at the chair-side as dentists examine and treat patients. They hand instruments and materials to dentists and keep patients’ mouths dry and clear by using suction hoses or other devices. They also instruct patients on postoperative and general oral healthcare.
Dental assistants must work closely with, and under the supervision of dentists; therefore, they work almost exclusively in the offices of dental practices. Assistants must wear gloves, and protective eyewear, masks, and clothing to protect themselves and their patients from infectious diseases. They must also follow safety procedures to minimize the risks associated with the use of x-ray machines.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost half of all dental assistants work a 40-hour week. More than one-third of dental assistants work part-time.
Employment of dental assistants is expected to increase 36 percent from 2008 to 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations. In fact, dental assistants are expected to be among the fastest growing occupations over the 2008 to 2018 projection period. Population growth, greater retention of natural teeth my middle-aged and older people, and an increased focus on preventative dental care for younger generations will fuel demand for dental services. Also, as dentists’ workloads increase, they are expected to hire more assistants to perform routine tasks, so that they may devote their own time to more complex procedures.
Ability to learn basic practices and procedures of dentistry
Average verbal and numerical abilities
Ability to follow instructions carefully and work according to set standards
Average eye-hand coordination and use of hands and fingers
Ability to work with people who may be under stress and to work as a member of a team
Training programs range from a one-year diploma or certificate program to a two-year associate degree programs. Some assistants are trained on the job or through an apprenticeship program, however, most employers require applicants to have completed a formal program of study.
Although it is not required, a person may be certified by graduating from an accredited program in dental assisting and passing an exam by the Dental Assisting National Board.
Programs in Nebraska
Central Community College – Hastings (Diploma, Associate)
Metropolitan Community College – Omaha (Certificate)
Mid-Plains Community College – North Platte (Diploma, Associate)
Southeast Community College – Lincoln (Diploma)
Related / Links
Other careers where workers support health practitioners:
Occupational therapy assistant
Physical therapy assistant
For more information about a career as a dental assistant or certification:
American Dental Association Department of Guidance
Dental Assisting National Board, Inc.
Nebraska Dental Association
Career information adapted in part from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handook, 2010-2011 Edition, Dental Assistants, on the Internet at www.bls.gov