Dental Assistant Job Description

A Dental Assistant’s Career

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Well trained dental assistants are in high demand and the profession offers plenty of challenge and room for growth. A dental assistant provides invaluable support to the dentist by assisting during treatments and procedures, prepping and dealing with patients and performing various administrative tasks.

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Most dental assistants hold positions in dentists’ offices; however, a small number also work in physicians’ offices, sales positions, or are employed by the government on a federal, state or local level.

The Dental Assistant’s Job Outlook

Aspiring dental assistants are enjoying an exceptional job outlook at the moment, with the occupation demand projected to grow by 31 percent by the year 2020. This is largely due to the aging baby boomer generation who are keeping more teeth than any previous generation, and thus, are requiring ever more dental care for maintenance and repair. Ongoing research has also shown a substantial link between oral health and general health. This has led to a significant increase in demand for preventative dental care such as cleanings and check-ups.

Thus, dental practices are growing and dentists are increasingly depending on support from a skilled staff of dental assistants. Dentists are continuing to hire more and more assistants to help with routine tasks, deal with patients and handle the administrative aspects of running a dentistry practice. Having a strong crew of skilled dental assistants allows dentists to see more patients each day and to spend sufficient time on the more demanding procedures. All of these aspects are creating a strong market for dental assistants, making this a very safe field to get into.

A Day in the Life of a Dental Assistant

A patient lying in the dental chair waiting for the dentist to begin his work owes a lot to the dental assistant. Before the dentist begins poking, probing, drilling, or filling, the dental assistant has performed myriad tasks to help the consultation or treatment to proceed smoothly.

A dental assistant will usually need to arrive at work 30 to 45 minutes before the office opens. They’ll need to make sure that supplies are stocked and everything is ready for the first patients of the day. They will prepare each room, making sure that charts, x-rays and any needed procedural materials are ready for the first appointments.

There may be as many as 20 tasks that must be done to prepare a room and patient for the dentist. The dental assistant will need to sterilize and disinfect all the dental instruments and tools, set up instrument trays, and prepare materials (like bonding agents) for the dentist, before seating the patient and putting on their bib. The assistant will take and record the patient’s vital signs and medical history.

But an assistant’s work doesn’t stop there. Once the patient is prepared, the assistant will notify the dentist that the patient is ready. As the dentist works, the assistant will help him with each step of the procedure. They will need to anticipate the dentist’s actions and pass tools to him as needed. They will take notes on the patient’s chart as the dentist dictates. They will provide water to rinse as needed and suction out extra saliva from the patient’s mouth. The assistant will even hold the patient’s tongue and cheeks back while the dentist performs needed procedures.

Once the dentist is finished with the patient, the assistant will pass on any post-operative instructions from the dentist and record the treatment information in the patient’s files. Then they’re responsible to get the room cleaned and ready for the next patient.

Aside from actually assisting the dentist while he works, the assistant will perform many supportive lab tasks. They may be called on to help with tasks like exposing dental diagnostic x-rays, making preliminary impressions for study casts, and pouring, trimming and polishing the study casts. They will also often be responsible for scheduling appointments, preparing bills, taking payments, managing insurance forms, and logging records.

A dental assistant rarely has a dull day in the office. They’re typically on their feet and in constant motion for most of the day. They’re taught in school to sit while assisting the dentist with a procedure, but most say that all the running around and fetching things for the doctor makes sitting almost impossible. It can get a little stressful at times, so a dental assistant will need a cool head and plenty of grace under pressure.

Some Handy Skills

Since a dental assistant’s primary job is to assist the dentist, they will need exceptional communication and listening skills. They will need to actively listen to what patients or dentists are saying, understand the points or requests being made, ask questions to clarify if needed, and respond in an appropriate and timely manner. The assistant will need to speak clearly and be able to communicate information correctly and accurately.

The assistant will also need to be a quick learner and be able to adapt to the unique needs of each dentist and patient. They will need to be keenly aware of the reactions and needs of those around them and be able to adjust accordingly. They will also need to be very service-oriented, actively looking for ways to help.

Finally, the assistant will need to manage their own time and others’ time well, as poor planning can seriously delay the dentist in his work, making it difficult to meet the needs of waiting patients.

Further Opportunities

Many dental assistant see the position as a stepping stone to a more highly-skilled and higher-paying job. Dental assistants who have strong organizational skills can often advance to take managerial positions in a dentist’s office. Many eventually go back to school to become dental hygienists or even certified dentists. Others continue their education to become dental-assisting instructors, while others still branch into dental product sales.