Dental Assistant: Is it a Good Career Choice for You?

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, employment for dental assistants is expected to grow 36% between 2008 and 2018, which is a much faster growth rate than the average for all occupations. Salaries for dental assistants can range from $22,270 to $46, 150. So what is it like to work as a dental assistant? I recently interviewed Ana Herrera, a 20 year veteran of the profession who currently works in a dental practice in Manhattan to find out.

  • What do dental assistants do? Dental assistants assist dentists during patient procedures and treatments. They take x-rays, sterilize instruments, set up the rooms for treatment, and stock the rooms with dental supplies. They also maintain dental equipment, order supplies, collect payment, and answer phones.

  • What training is necessary to become a dental assistant? Most dental assistant programs range from nine to 12 months in duration and training usually includes general chair side assisting, radiation health and safety, and infection control training. Once training has been completed, students must take the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) exam in order to become a Certified Dental Assistant. It is a four-hour test with 320 questions.

  • Where can a dental assistant work? Dental assistants can work for a general dentist or a specialist such as an endodontist (root canal specialist), oral surgeon, implantologist, pedodontist (children's specialist), or an orthodontist. They may have the option of working in a hospital dental facility or a clinic. The military offers dental assistant positions as well.

  • What is the most challenging part of being a dental assistant? In my opinion, dealing with patients who have had a traumatic past experience in a dental office can be a challenging, yet rewarding experience. I strive to make the patient's experience a pleasant one. You want them to feel at ease and be comfortable enough to return to your office or any other dental office.

  • What is the most rewarding part of your job? The most rewarding part of the job is knowing a patient has walked out of the office satisfied with the services. It feels great to hear the patient say "Your assistant was really gentle when taking my x-rays" or "Your assistant was helpful; you made me feel very comfortable." These comments remind me of why I became a dental assistant to begin with.

  • Are there scheduling options other than full-time for dental assistants? Yes. Dental assistants can work part-time and have flexible hours depending on the facility they choose to work in. Hospitals and large staffed offices would be more likely to offer these options than small private offices.

  • What type of person is a good fit for a career as a dental assistant. Dental assisting is a field open to both men and women. It is a good choice for someone who likes to help people, is a team player, and a multi-tasker. This career is not for you if prefer to sit all day as opposed to moving around all day. Since dental assistants assist dentists in minor surgical procedures including extractions, gum work, and implant surgery, it is important to have a strong stomach.
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