Interested in working in the dental industry, but don’t want to spend years and years becoming a dentist? You may be wondering how to become a dental assistant. This career path combines clinical skills with administrative responsibilities and typically requires less than one year of formal training—at Altierus Career College, our dental assistant students can be ready to graduate in as few as nine months.
Because demand for dental care is projected to rise, dental assistants job openings also look set to grow for the next several years. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 11% job growth for dental assistants over the 2020-2030 period, which is faster than the overall job growth rate of 8% for all occupations.
In this article, we’ll provide a brief overview of the dental assistant role, how much they tend to make, and the skills and training required to become one.
What Do Dental Assistants Do?
Dental assistants help keep dental offices operating smoothly by assisting with patient care and clerical office tasks. Duties may vary by state or by dental practice, but patient care and comfort is always a dental assistant’s main focus. Duties may include:
- Helping patients feel comfortable and ready for exams and procedures
- Preparing work areas for exams and procedures
- Sterilizing dental instruments and handing them to dentists during procedures
- Taking and processing x-rays
- Completing other lab tasks, such as making casts of patients’ teeth
- Scheduling patient appointments
- Keeping up-to-date records of patient care
- Working with patients on billing and payment
- Talking with patients about oral hygiene and oral care
In some states, dental assistants may also have the opportunity to perform “expanded duties”—procedures which can include applying fluoride and sealants or coronal polishing (removing plaque and stains from teeth). Dental assistants always work under the supervision of a dentist or dental hygienist.
How Much Dental Assistants Make
Dental assistant compensation varies by job market. The median annual salary was $41,180 as of May 2020. The lowest 10% of dental assistants earned less than $28,940, while the highest 10% of earners earned more than $58,390.
Most dental assistants work full time, and some work evenings and weekends.
Skills and Personal Traits a Dental Assistant Needs
In order to provide safe patient care and effective administrative support, most dental assistants need to demonstrate the following skills:
- Dexterity: Dental assistants handle delicate dental instruments and place their fingers in patients’ mouths. Good control of the hands and fingers is important.
- Active listening: Dental assistants work face-to-face with patients who may be anxious or need education about taking care of their oral health. Active listening skills will help them understand patient concerns, answer questions, and provide helpful advice.
- Organization: On any given day, a dental assistant may need to update patient records, clean and prepare a number of different dental procedure instruments, and arrange working areas for exams and procedures. Attention to detail and organization will make sure all these processes run smoothly—and safely—for patients and staff alike.
- Collaboration: Dental assistants often act as a liaison between patients and other members of the dental practice staff. As a result, they need to be able to communicate well, work in a team, and keep the needs of patients at the top of their minds.
- Empathy: Going to the dentist can be a scary experience for some people. Dental assistants should be able to validate patient anxieties while also helping them work through their reservations so they can receive treatment that will help them smile brighter.
Training to Become a Dental Assistant
The requirements you need to meet to become a dental assistant vary somewhat by state. While some states do not require entry-level dental assistants to have formal training, many do. Some states will only require dental assistants to have formal training if they will be performing specific expanded duties, such as coronal polishing or performing x-rays.
Even if formal training isn’t required in your area, you may still want to consider it. Graduating from a Dental Assistant program may not only provide you with the hands-on training, experience, and skills you need to be successful, it could also offer you a competitive edge when applying for dental assistant positions at dental offices.
Most dental assistant training programs will combine classroom learning with hands-on clinical skills training. At Altierus, we take a blended learning approach that combines online coursework with in-person labs. Our current program has students on campus one day per week. It also includes a 200-hour externship, to ensure students gain a more direct understanding of how dental assistants function on the job.
Get on the Path to Becoming a Dental Assistant
Ready to learn more about training to become a dental assistant with Altierus Career College? Explore our Dental Assistant program today!