Dental Assistant

Dental Assistant—Taking a closer look into this high-demand field

If working in the field of dentistry is appealing to you but the thought of going to dental or even hygienist school is overwhelming, then becoming a dental assistant may be an option worth pursuing. This could be a great profession for extroverted individuals who like working with other people. Also, those who are patient and have a high level of attention to detail may be well suited for this field. Oftentimes dental assistants eventually enroll in dental hygiene school so they’re able to expand their realm of practice.

Learn more about how to become a dental assistant.

What does the job of a dental assistant entail?

The main responsibility of dental assistants, as the title suggests, is to help dentists perform various dental procedures. Prior to a dental procedure, such as a filling, crown, or tooth extraction, the dental assistant prepares the necessary tools and instruments, as well as the work area. The assistant cleans the chair and equipment so it is ready for the patient. Then, during the actual procedure, the assistant is the dentist’s “right hand man/woman” so to speak; handing him/her the instruments when needed, suctioning the patient’s mouth from time to time, or inserting gauze. After the procedure, the dental assistant explains to the patient the postoperative care instructions. With the help of a dental assistant, a dentist is able to work much more efficiently on each patient, so they are able to see a greater number of patients per day.

Dental assistants may also have office duties like ensuring records are transferred as needed. Oftentimes it may be the dental assistant who takes x-rays and uploads them into the computer for the dentist to review. These professionals also order the office supplies, sterilize instruments, and take impressions or casts of teeth.

Learn more about dental assistant training.

In what settings are dental assistants employed?

Dental assistants can be employed in a variety of settings, including:

  • Solo dental practices with one dentist
  • Group dental practices (with two or more dentists)
  • Specialty practices (including oral surgeons, orthodontists, endodontic specialists, periodontists, and pediatric dentistry)
  • Public health dentistry, including settings such as schools and clinics which focus on the prevention of dental problems within entire communities  
  • Hospital dental clinics, assisting dentists in the treatment of bedridden patients
  • Dental school clinics, assisting dental students as they learn to perform dental procedures

What are the specific responsibilities of a dental assistant?

Dental assistants have many responsibilities. Below are some of their main tasks:

  • Helping patients to feel comfortable by explaining procedures and providing them with information on the treatment they’ll receive.
  • Preparing the room for treatment.
  • Obtaining dental records and health histories. Health histories would include information on patients’ allergies, and on what medications they’re taking that may interfere with treatment. 
  • Transferring instruments and materials to the dentist during a variety of dental procedures; such as fillings, root canals, crown preps, and extractions.
  • Keeping patients' mouths dry by using suction or other devices such as cotton rolls and gauze.
  • Sterilizing and disinfecting instruments and equipment.
  • Preparing tray setups for dental procedures.
  • Instructing patients on postoperative care such as not to bite their lip when they are numb, not to floss around temporary crowns, and how to care for extraction sites.
  • Removing sutures and excess cement used in the seating of a crown process.
  • Ordering supplies.
  • OSHA task items such as spore testing the autoclave, reporting on the corresponding log, and testing the cold sterile.

Dental Assistant Schools

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