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What Is a Dental Assistant and How to Become One

What Is the Job of a Dental Assistant?

Dental assistants provide support to dentists during dental exams and procedures. They are a vital part of any dental practice, though their specific duties vary by state and by the offices where they work. They handle basic office and equipment cleaning and administrative tasks to enable the dentist to focus on examinations and procedures. A dental assistant’s responsibilities may include preparing and sterilizing equipment, processing x-rays, and administrative tasks, such as filing paperwork and scheduling appointments.

How to Become a Dental Assistant

Dental assistants can receive their formal education through a variety means, including academic programs at community colleges, vocational schools, technical institutes, universities, or dental schools. To become a dental assistant, select a program that is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) of the American Dental Association. According to the ADA, the majority of academic dental assistant programs take nine to eleven months to complete. While certification is not required, some employers may prefer certified candidates for this position. Each state has different certification requirements, so you need to research the qualifications in your state. Certification typically requires the passing of an examination that evaluates knowledge of current procedures and dental conditions. Many dental assistants seek national certification by taking the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) examination offered by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB).

Top 10 Skills Needed for Dental Assistants

Do your skills line up with what hiring managers are looking for when they are reviewing resumes for a Dental Assistant position? ZipRecruiter scanned over 9,000,000 job postings and created a list of the most commonly required abilities for Dental Assistants below.

Based on our assessment, mastering the skills below and listing them on your resume is critical in getting your Dental Assistant job application to the top of the stack.

  1. X-ray
  2. Dentistry Experience
  3. Sterilization
  4. Clinic Experience
  5. Scheduling
  6. Communication Skills
  7. OSHA Standards
  8. CPR
  9. Infection Control
  10. Customer Service

What Are the Daily Job Duties of a Dental Assistant?

Dental assistants spend the majority of their day interacting with patients and assisting with dental exams and procedures. Their daily duties depend on what kinds of appointments the dentist has scheduled that day. Typically, dental assistants prepare equipment and supplies for the dentist before an examination or procedures, clear and sterilize the equipment after the patient appointment, take and process x-rays, and update patient paperwork.

How Is a Dental Assistant Job Different From a Dental Hygienist Job?

Dental assistants are much different than dental hygienists. Dental assistants aide the dentist before, during, and after procedures; they prepare instruments, take x-rays, and process paperwork, as well as other administrative tasks. They may perform small procedures, such as taking impressions of teeth. Dental hygienists also take x-rays and prepare instruments, but they also clean and polish patients’ teeth, apply fluoride, and evaluate patients’ overall oral health to discuss with the dentist. Dental assistants always work under a dentist’s supervision, while dental hygienists may work independently with patients. There are no formal education requirements to become a dental assistant, though most complete a dental assisting program before seeking jobs. Dental hygienists are required to have an associate or bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene before joining a practice.

Dental Assistant Job Description Sample

With this Dental Assistant job description sample, you can get a good idea of what employers are looking for when hiring for this position. Remember, every employer is different and each will have unique qualifications when they hire for a Dental Assistant role.

Job Summary

We are looking for an experienced and dedicated Dental Assistant to join our growing practice. Candidates must have at least one year of dental assisting experience. You will greet patients, prepare exam rooms, and help the dentist during patient examinations and other dental procedures. Between patients, you will clean exam rooms and replenish supplies. When not working with patients, you will also assist with administrative tasks, including answering phones and organizing patient records as needed.

Duties and Responsibilities

  • Gather patient information and health background
  • Prepare the work area for procedures
  • Take x-rays of patients’ teeth when necessary and display results for the dentist
  • Assist the dentist during examinations and dental procedures
  • Prepare materials for crowns or dental impressions
  • Educate patients on good oral hygiene habits
  • Restock treatment areas and monitor inventory

Requirements and Qualifications

  • Dental assistant certificate from an accredited vocational school (preferred)
  • 1+ years of dental assisting experience
  • X-ray certification a plus
  • Current BLS and CPR certification
  • Excellent understanding of dental hygiene procedures
  • Knowledge of aseptic and sterilization techniques
  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills
  • Attention to detail