A dental assistant performs a variety of tasks, typically within a dental office setting. Daily duties might include providing patient care, taking x-rays, record keeping, and scheduling appointments. A dental assistant will interact with dentists, patients, hygienists, and other dental workers.
Dental assistants play an important role in the dental office. As a dental assistant, you will typically help patients remain comfortable and calm before, during, and after an exam or procedure; prepare patients for a treatment; obtain and update medical records; take vital signs such as blood pressure; and provide patients with post-operative instructions (also called after care).
Accredited schools for dental assisting will train you to perform these duties and how to hand instruments and materials to dentists for a variety of procedures in a general dental practice, as well as specialty practice in oral surgery, pediatrics, orthodontics, periodontics, endodontics, and prosthodontics.
Dental assistant training will typically teach you how to prepare and maintain treatment rooms dental laboratories, and instruments, following OSHA, CDC, EPA, and OSAP guidelines for sterilization and disinfection; proper mixing and manipulation techniques for a variety of chair-side and dental laboratory materials; and how to expose and process dental radiographs (also called x-rays).
As a dental assistant, you’ll likely assist with taking and pouring alginate impressions, articulating and mounting study casts, fabricating custom trays, mouth guards, whitening trays, provisional crowns and bridges, and minor denture repairs.
How to become a dental assistant
Becoming a dental assistant usually involves some type of formal training. While there are many options for training, choosing an accredited school for dental assisting is the smart way to go. Accreditation means that the institution meets certain academic and student support standards, among other requirements. This usually gives you peace of mind that your training is of a good quality.
You should also find a school for dental assisting that will prepare you for any licensing requirements and one that has a robust career services department. A good career services department can help you find dental assisting jobs, prepare for your interview with potential employers and help you transition from your training to a professional environment.
You can earn your dental assisting diploma in as little as a year at some schools, like the Institute of Medical and Business Careers (IMBC) in Pittsburgh, PA. Not only is IMBC nationally accredited by ABHES, they will work with you to secure an internship, so you can practice your training in an actual dental environment under the supervision of professionals.
Certifications for dental assistants
After you obtain your diploma in dental assisting, you should consider obtaining your certifications. At IMBC, for example, they will cover the cost of your first round of exams for The Nationally Registered Dental Assistant (NRDA) credential, and the Radiation Health and Safety (RHS) exam. These are administered by the National Association for Health Professionals (NAHP) and Dental Assisting National Board (DANB), respectively.
Certification exams are typically not required for employment; however, employers understand students passing voluntary, third-party, certification exams validate their competencies, skills, and abilities in the specialized field of study.
As you complete your program and certifications for dental assisting, you may want to consider relocating for the right job opportunity. The great news is that according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of jobs is expected to grow nearly 20% by 2026, adding more than 64,000 new dental assisting jobs throughout the country. Now might just be the right time to complete your training.