Dental Assistant

Dental Assistant

Dental Assistant

When you go to the dentist’s office, you first have your teeth cleaned, by a hygienist, and then you have your teeth examined by your dentist. However, there is a third person involved in making your stay in the chair as quick and painless as possible. A dental assistant sterilizes tools, prepares the chairs, schedules appointments, and processes x-rays and other documentation. Their work is vital to the successful running of any dental practice.

Fast Facts

Minimum Degree/Certification Requirement: One-year training program, state certification

Vital Skills/Knowledge: Well organized, good communication, detail-oriented

Average Starting Salary: $9+ an hour

Job Description

Dental assistants are responsible for the smooth day-to-day running of a dental office. A smaller practice may only have one or two assistants; a larger institution may have multiple. The name tells all: a dental assistant assists the dentist(s) in whatever way they need. This may include, but is not limited to:

  • Sterilizing tools
  • Disinfecting surfaces
  • Keeping patients comfortable
  • Controlling suction during procedures
  • Taking impressions
  • Retrieving records
  • Scheduling appointments

Dental assistants can work either part or full-time. Hours vary with different practices, but most are during standard business hours, leaving weekends and evenings free.


In high school, students interested in becoming a dental assistant should take challenging courses. Anatomy, biology, and computer skills classes will all prove useful in the field.

Higher education programs range from associates degrees to technical programs. Most only take one year to complete. Not all programs are created equal, so look for a program that is accredited by the American Dental Association.

Certification/ Licensing

Though requirements vary by state, typically, aspiring dental assistants will take the Certified Dental Assistant exam from the Dental Assisting National Board to become certified and registered dental assistants.

Job Outlook: Excellent

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has predicted a 31% increase in dental assisting careers between the years 2010 and 2020. The median salary for a dental assistant is $33,500 per year (2010), or $16 per hour. Most offices will let you control your income based on the number of hours you want to work and your personal experience/credentials.

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