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Dental Assistant

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QUICK FACTS
Dental Assistants
2014 Median Pay $35,390 per year
$17.02 per hour
Entry-Level Education Postsecondary non-degree award
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2014 318,800
Job Outlook, 2014-24 18% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2014-24 58,600

What Dental Assistants Do

Dental assistants perform many tasks, ranging from providing patient care and taking x rays to recordkeeping and scheduling appointments. Their duties vary by state and by the dentists' offices where they work.

Work Environment

Almost all dental assistants work in dentists' offices. Most work full time.

How to Become a Dental Assistant

There are several possible paths to becoming a dental assistant. Some states require assistants to graduate from an accredited program and pass an exam. In other states, there are no formal educational requirements.

Pay

The median annual wage for dental assistants was $35,390 in May 2014.

Job Outlook

Employment of dental assistants is projected to grow 18 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. Ongoing research linking oral health and general health will likely continue to increase the demand for preventive dental services.


What Dental Assistants Do

Dental assistants perform many tasks, ranging from patient care and taking x rays to recordkeeping and scheduling appointments. Their duties vary by state and by the dentists' offices where they work.

Duties

Dental assistants typically do the following:

Assistants who perform lab tasks, such as taking impressions of a patient's teeth, work under the direction of a dentist. They may prepare materials for dental impressions or to create temporary crowns.

All dental assistants complete certain tasks, such as helping dentists with procedures and keeping patient records. Dental assistants are allowed to perform the following procedures in some states:

Coronal polishing, which means removing soft deposits such as plaque, gives teeth a cleaner appearance. In sealant application, a dental assistant paints a thin, plastic substance over teeth that seals out food particles and acid-producing bacteria to keep teeth from developing cavities. Fluoride application, in which fluoride is put directly on the teeth, is another anticavity measure. Some dental assistants may be qualified to apply topical anesthetic to an area of a patient's mouth, temporarily numbing the area to help prepare a patient for procedures.

Each state regulates the scope of practice for dental assistants.


Work Environment

Dental assistants held about 318,800 jobs in 2014. Almost all dental assistants work in dentists' offices. Dental assistants work under the supervision of dentists and work closely with dental hygienists in their day-to-day activities.

Dental assistants wear safety glasses, surgical masks, protective clothing, and gloves to protect themselves and patients from infectious diseases. They also must follow safety procedures to minimize risks associated with x-ray machines.

Work Schedules

Most dental assistants work full time. However, nearly 1 in 3 assistants worked part time in 2014. Some may work evenings or weekends.


How to Become a Dental Assistant

There are several possible paths to becoming a dental assistant. Some states require assistants to graduate from an accredited program and pass an exam. In other states, there are no formal educational requirements.

Education

Some states require dental assistants to graduate from an accredited program and pass an exam. Most programs are offered by community colleges, although they also may be offered by vocational or technical schools. Most programs take about 1 year to complete and lead to a certificate or diploma. Programs that last 2 years are less common and lead to an associate's degree. The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), part of the American Dental Association, accredited nearly 300 dental assisting training programs in 2015.

Accredited programs include classroom and laboratory work in which students learn about teeth, gums, jaws, and other areas that dentists work on and the instruments that dentists use. These programs also include supervised practical experience.

High school students interested in a career as a dental assistant should take courses in biology, chemistry, and anatomy.

Training

Dental assistants who do not have formal education in dental assisting may learn their duties through on-the-job training. A dental assistant or dentist in the office teaches the new assistant dental terminology, the names of the instruments, how to complete daily tasks, how to interact with patients, and other activities necessary to help keep the dental office running smoothly.

Important Qualities

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Some states require dental assistants to be licensed, registered, or certified. In other states, there are no formal requirements to become an entry-level dental assistant.

States that allow assistants to perform expanded duties, such as coronal polishing, require that they be licensed, registered, or hold certifications from the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). To earn certification from DANB, applicants must pass an exam. The educational requirements for DANB certification are that dental assistants must either have graduated from an accredited program or have a high school diploma and complete the required amount of work experience. Applicants also must have current certification in CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).

In addition, many states require assistants to meet specific education or training requirements in order to work with radiography (x ray) equipment. Requirements vary by state. Contact state boards of dentistry for specific requirements.


Pay

The median annual wage for dental assistants was $35,390 in May 2014. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $24,580, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $49,540.

Most dental assistants work full time. However, nearly 1 in 3 assistants worked part time in 2014. Some may work evenings or weekends.


Job Outlook

Employment of dental assistants is projected to grow 18 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. Ongoing research linking oral health and general health will likely continue to increase the demand for preventive dental services. Dentists will continue to hire more dental assistants to complete routine tasks, allowing the dentist to see more patients in their practice and to spend their time on more complex procedures. As dental practices grow, more dental assistants will be needed.

As the large baby-boom population ages, and as people keep more of their original teeth than did previous generations, the need to maintain and treat teeth will continue to increase the need for dental care.

In addition, the number of individuals who have access to health insurance is expected to continue to increase because of federal health insurance reform. People with new or expanded dental insurance coverage will be more likely to visit a dentist than in the past. This will increase the demand for all dental services, including those performed by dental assistants.

Job Prospects

Overall, job opportunities for dental assistants are expected to be good. Dental assistants with advanced certification or training will likely have the best job prospects.

Projected Employment by 2024

377,400 (18% growth from 2014)

 Search jobs for "Dental Assistant"


Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor
Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition

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