If you have been to the dentist’s office, chances are you must have seen some health workers in their scrubs and assumed they’re either the dentist or the dental hygienist. You might be right but most of the people you see on duty in the dental clinic are actually dental assistants. Dental assistants are adept at adjunct dental care, patient care and office management. Without their services, the daily operations of the dental clinic won’t go smoothly for both patients and dental professionals alike.
For those who are contemplating a career shift towards the practice of dentistry, working as a dental assistant is a good springboard to learn the ropes and gain practical knowledge while getting paid. The complexity of their job description might mislead other people to think it takes much time to train before working as one but it really isn’t as complicated as it seems.
What does a dental assistant do?
The main role of dental assistants is similar to what nurses would do in a medical clinic. Although they are the dentist’s extra hands, dental assistants can also help other dental professionals perform efficiently. They can assist dental therapists in handling their young patients, help dental hygienists in performing preventive dental care by passing instruments, aid dental technicians’ patients to get the right impressions or removal of the latter’s dentures, retainers, crowns and bridges. The valuable support in the clinic allows other dental professionals to concentrate on their work.
It may sound hectic but aside from providing quality patient care, dental assistants are also expected to perform office work. It will involve receiving patients, setting clinic appointments, maintaining patient dental records, and dealing with health insurance companies. They also do back office work such as managing the inventory and logistics of dental supplies and sterilisation of equipment.
Most dental assistants have a 35 to 40 hour work week in the dental clinic. This might include some work on Saturdays and evenings, depending on the roster. The most usual work area is by the dental chair, since they often aid the dental practitioner when working with patients. A majority of them work full time but some opt to work part time.
How much does a dental assistant get paid?
According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics (BLS), dental assistants can get about USD 23,500 to USD 47,500 a year. In 2012, average income for dental assistants was at USD 35,000 and a median wage of USD 34,500 annually. Metropolitan areas such as San Francisco, California (average income around USD 47,300), Nashua, New Hampshire (average pay about USD 46,800), and Haverhill, Massachusetts (average pay of USD 45,700) can afford to give their resident dental assistants fatter pay checks than their counterparts in other states.
If the pay is not enough incentive to get into this career, how about having job security? The BLS has projected 74,000 vacancies for dental assistants up to year 2022. That’s a 25 to 31 per cent employment growth, way higher than any other profession in the United States. There will be plenty of entry-level vacancies for diploma graduates of dental assisting training programs.
Although the state where they practice can dictate how much a dental assistant get in their pay slips, other variables come into play to make up the total income. One such factor is which industry they are in. Many dental assistants get hired by dental clinics and hospitals which offer above average compensation but those who get hired by specialty clinics or establishments that provide high end dental care are paid more. Another component that can affect how much dental assistants get is their credentials. Not all states require certification but when these dental professionals do get certified, they get better pay. Tenure and skills also dictate a dental assistant’s income. The longer they gain experience in a particular post, the better their multi-tasking skills.
The demand for dental assistants stem from the awareness of younger generations to take better care of their teeth and the expanded insurance coverage for dental health. The longer lifespan enjoyed by people will make them more likely to avail of dental intervention as they grow older. There is also an increase in population which will demand services from oral healthcare professionals. All of these factors translate to dental assistants securely employed.
How can one train to be a dental assistant?
There is no required formal training to become a dental assistant. Many of them learn on the job. Since the role that these professionals are expected to fulfil have gradually evolved and have become more demanding; training, certification, and even licensing is needed to keep up with the trends in the field of dentistry. Each state will have a different set of requirement for a dental assistant to practice their profession.
High school students who are interested to take up a career in dental assisting should take some courses in biology, anatomy and chemistry. Accredited programs for aspiring dental assistants will last for about a year or two. A two-year long program results in an associate degree, but they’re rarely offered. Training course for dental assistants is offered by community colleges, technical institutes and even the Armed Forces. Lectures and laboratory work will involve the anatomy and physiology of areas covered by dentistry and the instruments used on it. Supervised, hands on training are also included in the program.
For those who want to pursue certification, they must pass the Certified Dental Assistant exam issued by the Dental Assisting National Board. To take it, one must have finished the training program for dental assistants or have graduated from high school with requisite hours of training on the job in addition to having updated CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) certification. Most employers and even patients would prefer their dental assistants to have ample technical training and decent credentials.