Dental assistants can be found working in dentists offices, performing a variety of tasks and functions. The duties that they perform are integral to the successful operation of any dental practice. Their responsibilities range from assisting the dentist during dental procedures to managing the day-to-day operations of the office. It is not uncommon to find a dental assistant taking x-rays for one patient and then handling appointments and billing for another. The requirements for becoming a dental assistant vary by state with some requiring the completion of a certification program from an accredited school.
National Average Dental Assistant Salary
Hourly Wage Annual Wage
Upper: $23.82 $49,540
Median: $17.02 $35,390
Lower: $11.82 $24,580
States With Highest Salary
State Avg. Hourly Wage Avg. Annual Wage
- New Hampshire $21.43 $44,580
- Alaska $20.94 $43,550
- Minnesota $20.75 $43,160
- Massachusetts $20.00 $41,590
- North Dakota $19.71 $40,990
*All statistical data is from the U.S. Department of Labor and is updated quarterly
A dental assistant can be found doing a great variety of jobs within a dentist’s office. As can be assumed from the job title, they act as assistants for dentists during dental procedures. This can include everything from preparing an examination room and sterilizing dental instruments, to taking x-rays of the patients teeth.
They also perform organizational duties such as the scheduling of appointments, record keeping, and billing. This profession shares some of the same responsibilities as surgical techs, nurses, office managers, radiology technicians, and several other health care professions.
Some of their responsibilities include:
- Preparing examination rooms
- Preparing the mixture used for taking impressions of teeth
- The sterilization of dental tools
- Handing the dentist necessary tools during dental procedures
- Assisting with dental procedures
- Discussing dental related issues with patients
- Calming patients who are nervous
- Scheduling appointments
- Taking x-rays
- Bill Processing
Dental assistants work alongside dentists and dental hygienists, with the majority working regular full-time hours. A dentist can specialize in a specific area of dentistry, therefore someone may be employed by an office that specializes in pediatric dentistry while another person works in an office that serves patients of all ages. Jobs are also available working for cosmetic dentists and orthodontists. This career offers a choice if one wants to work in a specialty office.
A person who goes through dental assistant training learns how to use various types of equipment. One example is an air and water syringe. This tool is used to spray water on a tooth to rinse it as dental work is being performed. Air can also be sprayed onto a tooth to dry it during a procedure. Another piece of equipment is a small suction hose. This tool removes saliva from a patient’s mouth as he or she is being examined. An x-ray machine is another important piece of equipment used in this profession.
Safety is part of the curriculum taught in dental assistant schools. It’s important for these professionals to protect themselves and their patients from germs. Consequently, they wear rubber gloves, surgical masks and safety glasses when they work with a patient’s teeth. They also wear scrubs to protect themselves from bacteria. When x-ray of a patient’s teeth are taken, he or she steps out of the examination room. This helps to protect them against any unnecessary exposure to radiation.
How To Become A Dental Assistant:
Dental Assistant Schools:
The educational requirements for this career varies according to the state in which they will be working, some states requiring the completion of an accredited training program while other states do not require any formal training at all. In states without any requirements most training is completed while on the job. Of course, people who have graduated from an accredited dental assistant training program are more desirable to potential employers.
Individuals who attend dental assistant schools take courses on how to use various types of equipment and tools. There are other courses that teach students about the anatomy of the mouth, how to prevent infection, how to properly file patient records and more. Most programs are completed within one to two years, with students receiving either certification or an Associates degree.
Dental Assistant Certification and Licensing:
In order to become certified, eligible candidates must pass an examination. In order to take the test successful completion of an accredited program is necessary, though in some states the only prerequisite for taking the exam is receiving on-the-job training. Some states require a dental assistant to obtain a license to perform certain procedures. Someone interested in this career would be wise to check the requirements of his or her own state.
Who Should Become a Dental Assistant?
A major part of this work involves dealing with patients. Consequently, anyone considering this career should enjoy interacting with people. Oftentimes, a they must deal with patients who are nervous or hesitant about visiting the dentist’s office. An individual who is both patient and understanding will likely find success in this occupation.
Organizational skills are helpful when working with patient records and completing administrative tasks. One of the most valuable traits that someone in this profession can have is a friendly nature. A professional with a friendly demeanor is a welcome sight for any patient entering a dental office.
How Much Does A Dental Assistant Make?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual dental assistant salary is $36,260. Salaries can range from $24,580 for the bottom 10% of earners to $49,540 for those in the 90th percentile. The state with the highest average salary is New Hampshire with an annual mean salary of $44,580.
Factors That Can Influence Salary:
There are a few factors that can affect the salary of someone working in this field. For instance, if the individual has taken the national exam to become a Certified Dental Assistant, he or she can earn more than someone who doesn’t have this qualification. In addition, someone with several years of experience is likely to earn more than someone who is just starting out in the career. An individual who has several years under their belt has observed and helped with more dental procedures. He or she has also been able to establish a reputation for thorough, reliable work.
Someone working in a busy pediatric dentistry office located in a big city will command a higher salary than someone working in a dentist’s office located in a less populated area. Certainly, well-trained, efficient dental assistants are appreciated in any dentist’s office.
Someone working in this career has opportunities for promotion. He or she can study for an associate or bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene to become a dental hygienist. Someone who finds this work extremely rewarding may want to garner more education and pursue a career as a dentist.
Organizational skills and years of experience dealing with patients can transfer over to a successful career as a medical assistant in a physician’s office. The person would still be serving patients, but in another area of the healthcare field.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job market for dental assistants is expected to increase by 19% between 2014 and 2024. is is much higher than the national average of 7% during the same time frame. Due to an aging population the healthcare industry as a whole will continue to see healthy growth in the coming years.
Dental Assistant Schools
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- Dental Assisting - Associate's
- Medical Assisting - Associate's