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A dental assistant is an integral member of any dental practice. Their duties are among the most comprehensive and varied in the dental office. The dental assistant performs many tasks requiring both interpersonal and technical skills.
Responsibilities may include:
- Assisting the dentist during a variety of treatment procedures including preparing the work station, instruments, and materials. Aiding the dentist in the placement and removal of a dental rubber dam, retracting the patient’s cheek, tongue, or other parts of tissues during a dental operation.
- Scheduling and confirming patient’s appointments, escorting patients to the work station, and taking and developing dental radiographs (x-rays).
- Asking about the patient’s medical history, taking vitals, and checking for communicable diseases and informing the dentist.
- Serving as an infection control officer, developing infection control protocol and preparing and sterilizing instruments and equipment.
- Assuring patients feel comfortable before, during and after dental treatment.
- Providing patients with instructions for oral care following surgery or other dental treatment procedures, such as the placement of a restoration (filling).
- Teaching patients appropriate oral hygiene strategies to maintain oral health
(e.g., toothbrushing, flossing and nutritional counseling).
- Taking impressions of patients’ teeth.
- Performing office management tasks such as recording examination findings or treatment procedures on patient charts.
- Processing dental insurance forms, assisting with billing and collection, and preparing patient and office production statistics.
- Helping to provide direct patient care in all dental specialties, including orthodontics, pediatric dentistry, periodontics and oral surgery.
Variety: Dental assisting is a challenging and rewarding career, demanding versatility and a willingness to assume responsibility for many different tasks.
Flexibility: Since dental assistants are in demand, career options include both full-time and part-time positions.
Excellent working conditions: Dental offices are interesting, pleasant, people-oriented environments in which to work.
Personal satisfaction: Dental assisting involves people contact, and with this personal interaction comes the personal satisfaction of knowing you’ve really helped someone by helping to provide a valuable health service.
Since many dentists employ two or more dental assistants, employment opportunities in this field are excellent. The types of practice settings available to dental assistants include:
solo dental practices (practices with only one dentist)
group practices (practices with two or more dentists)
specialty practices, such as oral and maxillofacial surgery (removal of teeth and correction of facial deformities), orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics (straightening teeth with braces or other appliances), endodontics (root canal treatment), periodontics (treatment of gum problems), prosthodontics (replacement of lost teeth) and pediatric dentistry (treatment of children)
public health dentistry, including settings such as schools and clinics which focus on the prevention of dental problems within entire communities
hospital dental clinics, assisting dentists in the treatment of bedridden patients
dental school clinics, assisting dental students as they learn to perform dental procedures
Other Career Opportunities:
- Insurance companies, processing dental insurance claims.
- Teaching the dental assistant course in vocational schools, technical institutes, community colleges, and universities (Certain states may require a college degree).
- Dental product sales representatives.
Dental assistant employment is expected to grow by 19 percent from 2016 to 2026. Ongoing research linking oral health to general health will continue to increase the demand for preventive dental services. As dental practices grow, more dental assistants will be in demand.
Average salary range: $30,000 – $48,000
The salary of a dental assistant depends primarily upon the responsibilities associated with the specific position and the geographic location of employment. Dental assistants earn salaries equal to other health care personnel with similar training and experience such as medical assistants, physical therapy assistants, occupational therapy assistants, veterinary technicians and pharmacy assistants.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the median annual wage of dental assistants was $37,630 or $18.09/hr. in 2017.
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