A dental assistant career is a great option for people who want to work in a professional medical career environment but don’t want to spend years getting a degree in order to qualify. Every year, thousands of dentists all over the U.S. hire brand-new dental assistants, which means that demand for people with these skills is constant. Generally speaking, the average dental office will have several assistants, and many of them will be working part time. This flexibility is another added benefit to an already very desirable job. Greatly reduced prices on dental care are another one, and that benefit can add up to thousands of dollars over the years, making a dental assistant career even more attractive.
One of the main requirements for a dental assistant is the ability to relate well with people. In few other jobs are “people skills” more important. Most people are quite apprehensive about going to the dentist (especially small children), so the ability to empathize with them and set them at ease is paramount. While the vast majority of dental assistants are female, there certainly are male ones, too, but men may have to work harder in this area, especially with small children. With either gender, it’s simply a fact that if you don’t enjoy making small talk and interacting with people, then a dental assistant career is not something you should consider, since this is such an important part of the job.
Working with dental equipment will be a significant part of the day-to-day activities of an average dental assistant. This will involve cleaning and sterilizing equipment and instruments, as well as preparing the right ones for each patient upon the dentist’s instructions. During the actual treatments, the dental assistant will give the dentist the tools and equipment he needs at various times, and will make sure the patient’s mouth remains clean and dry. Some dental assistants have advanced duties, such as creating temporary crowns, making casts of the teeth. Many states have recently begun allowing dental assistants to perform duties that were once off-limits to them, such as coronal polishing.
For other dental assistants, however, tasks will be quite different. Some assistants are more geared toward making sure the office runs smoothly than toward the treatment of patients. They may actually spend most of their day on the phone or at a desk, ordering supplies, confirming or canceling appointments, updating patient records, sending out bills and recording payments, etc. In fact, it’s not uncommon for a dental assistant to end up as a full-fledged office manager after a few years.
One of the most attractive aspects of getting into a dental assistant career is that it doesn’t take a lot of schooling. Unlike most occupations in the field of health care, which require four or more years of college, in most states a person can be qualified to become a dental assistant after just one year of school. Most medium-sized to large cities have trade schools or community colleges that offer the curriculum. These are often quite reasonably priced, and it’s possible in many cases to get financial aid. It will be necessary to become certified upon graduation. This is done by taking and passing the comprehensive Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) exam, which is administered by the Dental Assisting National Board. Wages in a dental assistant career are quite good, especially when considered in the light of the short time it takes to become qualified. Most dental assistants earn between $30,000 and $40,000 a year, but many earn more, with some reporting earnings of over $50,000 a year. Those figures are averages, and new dental assistants shouldn’t expect to make that much immediately, but in a few years they should come close to the average or surpass it. Those who go on to become office managers can command even higher salaries.