How to Become a Dental Assistant

Three Parts:Learning About the ProfessionMeeting the RequirementsAdvancing Your Career

Dental assistants play a vital role in the dentist's office, with duties from helping patients get ready for treatments to processing x-rays. It's a flexible, rewarding job with plenty of room for career advancement if you're interested in eventually becoming a dental hygienist or a dentist. Learn what education and training you'll need to pursue job opportunities as a dental assistant.

Part 1
Learning About the Profession

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    Learn about the role of a dental assistant. Dental assistants have a wide range of responsibilities in the office. They work with patients, handle equipment, and process paperwork. The specific role of a dental assistant may vary from office to office. Here is the general job description you can expect:[1]
    • Prepare patients for treatments and cleanings
    • Assist the dentist during procedures (using the suction equipment to clean patients' mouths, etc.)
    • Take and develop x-rays
    • Take blood pressure and pulse
    • Sterilize equipment
    • Provide patients with instructional materials and oral hygiene supplies
    • Teach patients how to brush and floss
    • Perform office management tasks, such as scheduling appointments
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    Know what to expect from the job setting. Dental assistants are in high demand, since many dentists employ more than one assistant. There are a variety of practice settings in which dental assistants are needed. These include the following:[2]
    • Individual dental practices and group dental practices
    • Speciality practices, such as oral surgery, orthodontics and dental facial orthopedics
    • Schools, clinics and other public health program sites
    • Hospital dental clinics
    • Dental school clinics
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    Know the average salary and other job specifics. Before you decide to become a dental assistant, it's a good idea to learn more about what to expect in terms of salary and job flexibility. While these specifics will vary from job to job, these facts will help you know what to expect:
    • In 2013, the average pay for dental assistants was $35,640, although the highest pay recorded was $48,350.
    • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, between now and the year 2022, there could be up to 74,000 new job openings for dental assistants. This reflects a 24.5 percent growth rate, which is much higher than the average field.[3]
    • Dental assistants typically have full-time, salaried jobs, although part-time work is also available.

Part 2
Meeting the Requirements

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    Get your high school degree or GED. While it may be possible to get a job as a dental assistant without a high school degree or equivalent, you'll have a much better chance if you do. If you did not graduate from high school, make plans to get your GED before you begin applying for jobs.[4]
    • While you're in high school, focus on taking classes in biology, chemistry and anatomy to prepare you to work as a dental assistant.
    • You may also want to do volunteer work or get an internship in the field of customer service, to work on your interpersonal skills. As a dental assistant, you'll be working with patients every day, and employers will look favorably on this type of experience.
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    Research your state's requirements for dental assistants. Some states do not require dental assistants to have any type of training or education beyond a high school degree. Others require job candidates to get certification from an accredited program.
    • To find out about your state's requirements, do an online search for your state + board of dentistry. Click on a link that directs you to information about dental assisting or dental assistant registration.
    • In states that don't require a certificate, your training will take place on the job. In these cases you may become a "registered dental assistant" when your dental employer lists your name on the practice's dental license renewal.[5]
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    Enter a certificate program if required by your state. Look for a program that has been accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) in your area. Many community colleges offer such programs[6]
    • Most programs last one year. In the program you will participate in both classroom and laboratory work to learn about teeth, gums, dental instruments you'll be using, and other facets of the dental assistantship career.
    • In states where getting a certificate is not required, you may still benefit from completing such a program. It can give you a competitive edge over other job applicants.
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    Pass the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) exam. To receive your certificate, you'll need to pass this exam at the end of your program. To take the exam, register with the Dental Assisting National Board[7]. You must meet the following requirements to take the exam:
    • You must have graduated from an accredited program
    • In states that don't require you to complete a program, you must have your high school diploma or equivalent
    • You must have current CPR training[8]

Part 3
Advancing Your Career

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    Search for dental assistant jobs. Look for job postings at dental offices, group practices, dental universities, and hospitals. An easy way to find openings is to do an online search for "dental assistant" with your location.
    • If you completed a certification program, ask your teachers and career counselors to help you find position openings.
    • If there is a particular practice where you'd like to work, call to see if they're hiring.
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    Apply for a job as a dental assistant. Make sure you meet the requirements listed on the posting for the job you're applying to. Talk about both your dental assistant credentials and your customer service experience during your interview.
    • Some jobs require a year or more of experience. You will probably have better luck getting an entry-level job that does not require multiple years of experience.
    • However, if you completed a certification program, you can count the supervised training you received as experience.
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    Consider taking steps to become a dental hygienist or dentist. After working as a dental assistant, you may decide you like the field and wish to advance further. The experience you gain assisting the dentist will give you an excellent view into the world of dentistry. If you're interested in learning about the additional training and education necessary to become a dental hygienist or dentist, see these articles:


  • Being a dental assistant is a great job; however, you need to have a flexible personality and be a person who has good communication skills.

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Categories: Health Care