Dental Assistant

Certified Dental Assistant (CDA), Certified Registered Dental Assistant, Dental Aide   More Names
Dental Assistant (DA), Dental Assistants, Dental Nurse, Dental Office Manager, Dentist Attendant, Expanded Duty Dental Assistant (EDDA), Expanded Function Dental Assistant, Oral Surgery Assistant, Orthodontic Assistant (Ortho Assistant), Orthodontic Technician, Orthodontist Assistant, Registered Dental Assistant (RDA), Surgical Dental Assistant

Assist dentists in preparing patients for treatment of their teeth, gums and mouths, and prepare dental equipment and supplies for use. During dental procedures they work next to dentists handing them instruments and materials.

During treatments, they keep patients' mouths clear and dry using suction hoses and other means. After treatment, they may aid in instructing patients on aftercare and overall oral hygiene, including how to properly brush and floss their teeth. They also assist in maintaining patients' records and with other dental office duties.

Dental assistants work under the direction of dentists; they are mostly employed in dental offices and clinics although some can be found working in hospitals or government agencies. They work closely with dentists and perform a wide-range of patient care, on-site laboratory tasks, and office duties.

Dental assistants greet patients in the office reception area and take them back to their treatment location. They make patients comfortable in the dental chair, review what treatment they will be having that day, and then prepare them for it. If X-rays of teeth and gums are needed, dental assistants may take and process the X-rays, as directed by the dentist and state practice regulations. They also lay out smaller dental instruments and position the larger dental equipment that will be used.

Throughout dental procedures, dental assistants work right alongside the dentist and provide a variety of support services. For example, they may prepare and hand to the dentist topical and other anesthetics needed to numb teeth, nerves and gums so that the patient does not feel pain during tooth drilling, repair, or removal. As the dentist works, they will pass instruments and materials as needed. They may also use cotton swabs, suction hoses, and other devices to help keep a patient's mouth dry and clear, while periodically rinsing the patient's Mouth.

Dental assistants also may help the dentist in making impressions and casts of teeth for customized repairs and replacements, such as temporary crowns and dentures. As directed, they also may instruct patients about post-treatment care and in some cases also apply cavity prevention agents to their teeth. As they perform these support tasks, dental assistants need to wear gloves, masks, eyewear and protective clothing to protect themselves and their patients from infectious diseases. They also must follow safety procedures to minimize the risks associated with the use of X-ray machines or other dental equipment.

The office duties of dental assistants usually involve helping to update and maintain patients' records. Other duties often include helping to clean and routinely maintain dental treatment equipment as well as monitoring and ordering needed supplies.

Dental assistants' responsibilities, tasks and duties should not be confused with those of dental hygienists who are licensed by states to perform a different set of clinical dental tasks and who need other more specific skills and training.

Credentials Needed: States have a range of licensure, registration, or practice requirements concerning dental assistants. Some states require licensure or registration to perform certain dental procedures (e.g. X-rays) or operate certain equipment (e.g. nitrous oxide/oxygen). Such licensure or registration may include attending an accredited dental assisting training program and passing a written and/or practical exam. Certain states may also require a criminal background check as a licensing condition. By contrast, a number of states have no licensure or registration requirements at all to work as a dental assistant. Check with your state's Board of Dental Examiners regarding licensing or other requirements for dental assistants. The Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) offers the voluntary Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) credential as well as other specialty certifications for dental assistants.

Some Key Things to Remember: Dental assistants work under the direction of a licensed dentist. Most employers prefer to hire dental assistants who have some post-secondary training and/or a credential, but some may train on-the-job for this profession with a high school diploma or GED. Most employment is in dentist offices or clinics.

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Job Growth and Wages
Percent Job Growth:  
18% - Faster than average
Typical Wages (National):  
Annual: $30,410 - $45,170    Hourly: $15 - $22
Physical/Medical/Health Requirements

No specifc requirement is identified at this time.

Legal Requirements
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Career Snapshot

Typical Education:

Certificate (High School + 0-4 years, Certificate awarded)
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Percent Job Growth:

18% - Faster than average
Find Jobs

Typical Wages:

Annual: $30,410 - $45,170

Hourly: $15 - $22