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Dental Assisting Career

Career Description

A Dental Assistant assists dentist, sets up patient and equipment, and keeps records.

Common Work Tasks

  • Sterilize and disinfect instruments and equipment, prepare and lay out the instruments and materials required to treat each patient, and obtain patients’ dental records
  • Make patients as comfortable as possible in the dental chair and prepare them for treatment
  • Work alongside the dentist to provide assistance
  • Hand instruments and materials to dentists and keep patients’ mouths dry and clear by using suction or other devices
  • Instruct patients on postoperative and general oral health care
  • Prepare materials for impressions and restorations, take dental x rays, and process x-ray film as directed by a dentist
  • Remove sutures, apply topical anesthetics to gums or cavity-preventive agents to teeth, remove excess cement used in the filling process, and place rubber dams on the teeth to isolate them for individual treatment
  • Make casts of the teeth and mouth from impressions, clean and polish removable appliances, and make temporary crowns
  • Schedule and confirm appointments, receive patients, keep treatment records, send bills, receive payments, and order dental supplies and materials
  • Wear gloves, masks, eyewear, and protective clothing to protect themselves and their patients from infectious diseases

Other Job Titles

Dental Assistants are also known by other titles, including:

  • Dental Hygienists
  • Medical Assistants
  • Physician Assistants
  • Surgical Assistants

Education,  Training, and Experience

Education and Training
High school students interested in a career as a dental assistant should take courses in biology, chemistry, health, and office practices. For those wishing to pursue further education, the Commission on Dental Accreditation within the American Dental Association (ADA) approved 269 dental-assisting training programs in 2006. Programs include classroom, laboratory, and preclinical instruction in dental-assisting skills and related theory. In addition, students gain practical experience in dental schools, clinics, or dental offices. Most programs take 1 year or less to complete and lead to a certificate or diploma.  Two-year programs offered in community and junior colleges lead to an associate degree. All programs require a high school diploma or its equivalent, and some require science or computer-related courses for admission. A number of private vocational schools offer 4- to 6-month courses in dental assisting, but the Commission on Dental Accreditation does not accredit these programs

Certification and Licensure
Most States regulate the duties that dental assistants are allowed to perform. Some States require licensure or registration, which may include passing a written or practical examination. There are a variety of schools offering courses—approximately 10 to 12 months in length—that meet their State’s requirements. Other States require dental assistants to complete State-approved education courses of 4 to 12 hours in length. Some States offer registration of other dental assisting credentials with little or no education required. Some States require continuing education to maintain licensure or registration. A few States allow dental assistants to perform any function delegated to them by the dentist.

  Dental assistants must be a second pair of hands for a dentist; therefore, dentists look for people who are reliable, work well with others, and have good manual dexterity.


The median annual salary for a Dental Assistant is $32,000. The top 10 percent earn more than $45,000, and the lowest 10 percent earn less than $21,000.  Median earnings in the industries employing the largest number of dental assistants are:

  • Offices of Dentists - $32,290
  • Offices of Physicians - $29,980
  • Federal Executive Branch - $35,210
  • Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools  - $30,640
  • General Medical and Surgical Hospitals- $32,590

Job Outlook

  • 2006-2016 Employment growth:  29%
  • Number of new jobs created 2006-2016: 82,000
  • Employment 2006 : 280,000
  • Employment 2016:  362,000
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