Dental Assistant Career

According to the Dental Assistant National Board (DANB), dental assisting is among the top 25 fastest-growing professions in the United States. A dental assistant, as part of a dentist-led team, performs both clinical and administrative duties to ensure the dental office runs efficiently and smoothly.

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Clinical and Administrative Dental Assistant Job Duties

Clinical Job Duties

Just a few of the clinical job duties of dental assistants include:

  • Applying topical anesthetics
  • Arranging dental instruments, materials, and medications for dentist
  • Conducting post-operative and post-treatment procedures, as instructed by the dentist
  • Educating patients on oral hygiene instructions, including brushing and flossing techniques
  • Handling instruments to the dentist
  • Maintaining a sterile working environment, according to current infection control procedures
  • Mixing and preparing materials, such as cements and fillings
  • Sterilizing instruments
  • Utilizing suction system to keep the patient’s mouth dry

Administrative Job Duties

Administrative duties for dental assistants often include:

  • Answering telephones and making appointments
  • Communicating with vendors and the purchasing department
  • Greeting patients in waiting area and escorting them to the exam room
  • Maintaining patient treatment records
  • Overseeing the preventative maintenance of dental equipment
  • Stocking supplies and maintaining a clinical supply inventory
  • Completing insurance forms

A job description for a dental assistant also typically includes equipment and supplies that the employer expects the job candidate to have experience working with or operating:

  • Aspirators
  • Autoclaves
  • Cheek and tongue retractors
  • Computers/computer software
  • Dental instruments
  • Disinfectant solutions
  • Mercury/silver amalgam
  • Photographic chemicals
  • Polishing lathes
  • Powdered plaster and stone
  • Syringes
  • Water sprays
  • Waxes
  • X-ray machines

Job Descriptions for Dental Assistants with Expanded Functions

Dental assistants who are responsible for completing job duties beyond the scope of a general dental assistant are often said to be expanded function dental assistants. Duties of expanded function dental assistants often include:

  • Applying pit and fissure sealants
  • Applying topical fluoride treatments
  • Placing and removing periodontal dressings
  • Polishing teeth
  • Removing surgical sutures
  • Taking dental x-rays
  • Taking impressions and bite registrations

Dental assistants may work for general dentists, pediatric dentists, oral surgeons, periodontists, and orthodontists, among others; therefore, their daily tasks may differ depending on the dental specialist for whom they work.

Orthodontic Dental Assistant Job Duties

  • Placing and ligating arch wires
  • Placing and removing orthodontic ligature ties and orthodontic separators
  • Preparing teeth for bonding
  • Removing orthodontic bands and excess cement using hand instruments and ultrasonic scalers
  • Removing orthodontic brackets and attachments
  • Selecting and curing orthodontic brackets
  • Sizing, fitting, and cementing orthodontic bands

Dental Sedation Assistant Job Duties

  • Adding drugs, medications, and fluids to IV lines, under the guidance of a licensed dentist
  • Monitoring patients undergoing conscious sedation or general anesthesia
  • Operating monitoring equipment, such as pulse oximeters, electrocardiograms, and respiration rate monitoring devices
  • Removing IV lines

Periodontist Dental Assistant Job Duties

  • Applying non-aerosol and non-caustic topical agents
  • Knowledge of autoclaves, lathes, model trimmers, radiograph machines, vacuum-presses, and intraoral cameras
  • Placing post-extraction and periodontal dressings
  • Removing healing abutments from dental implants
  • Removing post-extraction and periodontal dressings

Oral/Maxillofacial Surgeon Dental Assistant Job Duties

  • Assisting the surgeon during treatment/surgical procedures
  • Preparing and sterilizing instruments and equipment
  • Preparing for perio-surgical setups with instruments, equipment, and supplies
  • Scheduling surgical consultations and procedures
  • Setting up and breaking down post-treatment
  • Taking and developing dental radiographs

Prosthodontic Dental Assistant Job Duties

  • Fabricating mouth and bit guards and custom trays
  • Making diagnostic impressions and casts
  • Performing simple acrylic repairs
  • Preparing materials for prostliodontic procedures
  • Setting up prosthodontic instrument trays
  • Trimming dental casts

Qualifying for Dental Assisting Jobs through Education, Certification, and Training

A typical dental assistant job description includes tasks that candidates can best develop competency to perform through education and certification:

Dental Assisting Program Completion

One of the most common job requirements is undoubtedly a certificate, diploma or associate’s degree from a Commission on Dental Assisting (CODA)-accredited program in dental assisting. These CODA-accredited programs include a clinical externship and all of the necessary coursework to prepare dental assistant job candidates to meet the requirements that most employers set.

National Certification

Thirty-eight states defer to Dental Assistant National Board (DANB) certification as the standard for qualifying dental assistants for state registration and licensure purposes. It has also become the standard among dental assistants who want to advance in the profession. There are currently four different DANB certifications and two to six component examinations within each certification:

  • Certified Restorative Functions Dental Assistant (CRFDA)
  • Certified Preventive Functions Dental Assistant (CPFDA)
  • Certified Orthodontic Assistant (COA)
  • Certified Dental Assistant (CDA)

State Requirements

Dental assistants must ensure they meet the requirements have been established by their state’s board of dentistry. State dental boards (often referred to as boards of dental examiners) regulate the practice of dentist assistants in most states; however, the requirements for registration or practice vary from state to state.

Some states require DANB national certification for dental assistants, while other states require dental assistants to graduate from a CODA-accredited training program and pass a licensing examination. Other states regulate dental assistants if they perform specific job duties, such as coronal polishing or x-rays, while still other states have no licensing or registration requirements at all.

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