Q: What does a dental assistant do?

A: A dental assistant helps the dental office by increasing the efficiency in the day-to-day operations, performing medical procedures, as well as taking on administrative tasks. A dental assistant’s responsibilities may vary by state, and the particular dental office.

Dental Assistant Education

There are a few different ways you can become a dental assistant. First you need to check to see if your state requires you to graduate from an accredited program and pass a state exam. Because, then that’s the path you’ll take. Most programs only take about a year to complete. You can find dental assistant programs at a community college where you can graduate with a certificate or a diploma.

In the states where no formal education is required, you can learn dental assisting through on-the-job training where you’ll learn instrument names, how to complete daily tasks, bedside manner, and other activities that keep the dental office running smoothly.

What you need to do to become a dental assistant, in a nutshell:

  • Get your high school diploma or GED.
  • Enroll in a dental assistant program or complete an externship with hands-on training.
  • Complete your state’s licensing requirements.
  • Decide if you want to specialize in areas such as an orthodontist dental assistant, preventative functions, or restorative functions, and get certified.

You should have excellent communication and interpersonal skills along with technical knowledge and a great eye for detail. Whether you’re performing tasks requested by the dentist or assisting with a patient, you’ll be considered a quality dental professional and an invaluable member of a dental staff.

Certification for Dental Assisting

Before you’re even eligible for certification, you have to either graduate from an accredited program, or complete the state required amount of on-the-job training. You also need to be current with your CPR certification. Once all those requirements are met, you have to pass the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) exam from the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB).

Salary and Job Outlook

Your starting salary will be around $25K on average. Midrange salary averages in the $37K range, and once you have about ten years in, you will be bringing home $52K. Keep in mind, your salary may look different depending on factors such as where you work, what state you live in, and the amount of experience you have.

The dental assisting career is going to grow 19 percent through 2026. More people are linking oral health to all around physical health so they are starting to take better care of their teeth and gums. That’s why the career is growing much faster than average.