One of the Best Jobs in the World: Becoming a Dental Assistant

A valuable member of a dental care team, a dental assistant is on hand to help dentists in the delivery of quality oral health care. It’s a rewarding and fulfilling career and is actually quite fast paced with no two days being the same. One of the most wonderful things about being a dental assistant is interacting with patients. 

What does a dental assistant do?

Being a dental assistant is far from boring, with varied jobs around the office. In fact, the duties of a dental assistant are some of the most comprehensive out of all jobs around a dental practice. These tasks require strong interpersonal skills and well as strong technical skills. While the job description of a dental assistant will vary from country to country, area to area and even dental practice to dental practice, overall duties may include: 

  • Assisting the dentist during treatment procedures
  • Handling dental x-rays
  • Dealing with the paperwork, including recording the patient’s medical history 
  • General administration around the office, including developing protocols for infection control, communicating with suppliers, scheduling appointments, answering the phones and billing customers
  • Preparing and sterilising equipment 
  • Taking impressions of patients’ teeth to help create casts 
  • Communicating with the patient including teaching them proper oral hygiene strategies, discussing proper oral care following dental treatment procedures 

Of course, there may be more that dental assistants are tasked with. This largely depends on the type of dental practice. 

The patient-first approach

Much of a dental assistant’s job involves being with and interacting with the patient. While the dentist or oral surgeon will be doing the actual treatment, it’s usually the dental assistant who is by the patient’s side throughout the whole process – from greeting them at the door to sitting by their side while the treatment is being done. In fact, many dental assistants say this is the best part of their job. One of the most rewarding parts of the job for many dental assistants is seeing their patients’ smiles transform, and much of the job involves easing any anxiety a patient may have and building trust. And many dental assistants see the profession as more than ‘just a job’. Rather, it’s a way to contribute and make a real difference to people’s health. 

Because of the nature of the dental assistant job, it’s important that anyone thinking of going into the profession has certain skills and characteristics. This includes strong communications skills, high level of empathy, the ability to listen and the ability to calm a patient down. While you will learn all the necessary skills such as dental charting, oral health and preventative techniques, clinical dental procedures and what each instrument is and does, there are some things that cannot be taught, and that’s where you as an individual can shine. 

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Why become a dental assistant?

Other than the patient-first philosophy, working with people and helping patients with their oral health, dental assistants are actually very in-demand at the moment. This provides a level of job security. Why are they so in demand? Well, to put it simply, a dental practice cannot function without an assistant. We all know that oral health has a big impact on general health, which is why visiting the dentist is so important. This increases demand for dental services, which in turn means dentists and dental assistants will continue to be in high demand. Statistics show that demand for dental assistants is projected to grow more than 30% in the coming years. 

While the best part of being a dental assistant is the ability to help others, earning a good income is still high on the priority list for anyone entering the workforce. Of course, salary will depend on what qualifications you have and the kind of responsibility you are tasked with in the dental practice, but generally speaking, dental assistants can earn the equivalent to other healthcare personnel with similar training and experience, such as medical assistants, physical therapy assistants, veterinary technicians and pharmacy assistants. 

Where to now?

Studying to become a dental assistant doesn’t mean that’s necessarily where you’ll stay. The job is fast-paced and varied, meaning you’ll gain a whole lot of skills and experience while working, and this can set you up for potential growth and development. 

Throughout your career as a dental assistant, you may work in a small dental practice, a speciality practice, in the public health system, in hospitals, in dental school clinics or even with insurance companies assisting with dental insurance claims or as dental product sales representatives. There really is a lot you can do with a dental assistant qualification. 

Moving up the career ladder may require further training, however with the right qualifications, dental assistants can go on to become dental hygienists, dental office managers or even dentists. While these career paths all require further studies, having worked in the profession prior will give you an added advantage. 
Studying to become a dental assistant can open up doors to a range of very rewarding jobs, not least of which is helping people get their smiles back.

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Gladys is the Associate Director of Admissions & Student Services with over 10 years of experience at the International Career Institute.