Beginner’s Guide to Becoming a Dental Assistant

Beginner’s Guide to Becoming a Dental Assistant

If you see yourself in the medical field, but your circumstances don’t allow you years of studying and incurring the financial burden to get that degree, don’t despair. You should look into the position of a dental assistant. For many, this entry-level position is a stepping stone to other positions within the dental industry.

What Do Dental Assistants Do?

Dental assistants are the supporting members of a dental office. They deal with administration, as well as some clinical tasks such as sterilizing the tools or operating the suction and taking impressions during procedures. 

Benefits of the job are numerous, including, but not limited to:

– Quick training process: you can get certified to be a dental assistant within a year.
Numerous work opportunities: as a dental assistant, your options are spread wide in front of you. With a little additional work, even dentistry is an option down the line.
Employment stability: according to BLS, the need for dental assistants is estimated to increase by 19% by 2026.
Competitive salary: the ratio of investment to the salary is well in your favor.

It is important to note that different states have different laws regarding certification, so make sure to research your desired state’s standing on the matter.


How Do I Go About Becoming a Dental Assistant?

The first step is to complete your dental assistant training: There are numerous routes you can take – from programs in vocational and technical schools that last between nine months to a year, to the two-year associate’s degrees for those who wish to get to higher positions eventually. You can check out one of the 270 programs accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. 

Upon starting the program, start searching for an externship: Externship is the on-the-job training that will help you hone your dental assistant skills. You will learn a lot about things such as dental pathology, oral anatomy, and assisting the dentist during procedures.

Remember certification: Upon completion of your course check if your desired state requires official certification. The Dental Assistant National Board handles the exam. They require that you have either finished your course or have at least two years of dental assistant work experience. 

Finally, you can always go for further certification to become, for example, Certified Preventive Functions Dental Assistant, or CPFDA, or Certified Orthodontic Dental Assistant, or CODA.


Skills Needed to Be a Dental Assistant

If you’ve decided to pursue a career in dentistry, you may be wondering, “what does it take to be a dental assistant?” Because the duties are so broad, there are a variety of skills you need. 

Technical Skills

One of the primary jobs of  dental assistants is to help dentists perform procedures. Dental assistants work closely with dentists to perform tasks such as fillings, crowns, and other procedures. Some technical skills needed include:

– Knowledge of advanced dental procedures in order to anticipate the order of operations.
Ability to take X-rays, blood pressure readings, and dental impressions.
– Knowledge of dental materials and maintaining equipment.
– Ability to spot a dental emergency.

Legally, a dental assistant needs to know CPR in order to respond in an emergency as well. 

To be allowed to do more advanced functions, such as taking x-rays or performing coronal polishes, many states require dental assistants to be licensed or certified, and those requirements vary by state.


People Skills

Not everybody loves going to the dentist. A dental assistant is often the first face that patients see when they walk through the door, so you need to be friendly and compassionate. That’s why good people skills are so important. You’re going to have to:

– Settle patients in and prepare them for their check-up, surgery or procedure.
Ask about their medical history.
– Be a good listener.
– Help patients feel comfortable before, during, and after treatment.
– Be a good communicator, as you’ll provide oral hygiene and care instructions after procedures or surgery.


Admin Skills

A lot of jobs come with administration duties, and this one is no different. On top of your technical abilities and people skills, you’ll be asked to do a variety of admin tasks on a daily basis. The scope of those tasks will vary from office to office, but could include:

– Performing office management tasks, including computer-based work.


  • Communicating with patients to schedule appointments, make reminder calls, and even sorting out billing issues
  • Monitoring and ordering supplies when needed


What’s The Salary?

According to the BLS, the median pay for dental assistants in the U.S. in 2016 anywhere between $26,170 to $53,130 per year.


What Jobs Can I Hold?

Most dental assistants juggle both administrative work and chairside assisting. However, you have the option of moving into a more specialized area. Some popular specializations are maxillofacial surgery, prosthodontics, and pediatric dentistry. 

If you ever wish to move on to higher positions, that’s possible as well. Get an associate’s degree, and you can find work as a dental hygienist or a dental technician.

To conclude, if you’re intrigued by our article, do further research. Compare and contrast, keep up with the news, and you’ll be on your way to a rewarding and well-paid career in no time.

“Dental Assistant,” US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
[2] “What Does a Dental Assistant Do?” Carrington College, 18 November, 2019.
[3] “Certified Preventive Functions Dental Assistant,” Dental Assistant National Board.
[4] “Certified Orthodontic Assistant,” Dental Assistant National Board.