Career Detail


Dental Assistants
“Assisting the Mouth Doctor”
Dental assistants work closely with, and under the supervision of dentists and perform a variety of patient care, office, and laboratory duties.
The Job
During dental procedures, assistants work alongside the dentist. They hand instruments and materials to dentists and keep patients' mouths dry and clear by using suction or other devices. They also instruct patients on postoperative and general oral health care. Dental assistants may prepare materials for impressions and restorations, take dental x rays, and process x-ray film as directed by a dentist. They also may remove sutures, apply topical anesthetics to gums or cavity-preventive agents to teeth, remove excess cement used in the filling process, and place rubber dams on the teeth to isolate them for individual treatment. Dental assistants with laboratory duties make casts of the teeth and mouth from impressions, clean and polish removable appliances, and make temporary crowns. Those with office duties schedule and confirm appointments, receive patients, keep treatment records, send bills, receive payments, and order dental supplies and materials.
Work Environment
Dental assistants work in a well-lighted, clean environment. Their work area usually is near the dental chair so that they can arrange instruments, materials, and medication.
College Majors
Dental Assistance Programs
Minimum Qualifications
Many assistants learn their skills on the job, although an increasing number are trained in dental-assisting programs offered by junior colleges, trade schools, and technical institutions.
Personality traits helpful for this career
Dental assistants must be a second pair of hands for a dentist; therefore, dentists look for people who are reliable, work well with others, and have good manual dexterity.
Quick Facts
  • About 35 percent of dental assistants worked part time, sometimes in more than one dental office.
  • Job prospects should be excellent.
  • Benefits vary substantially by practice setting and may be contingent upon full-time employment.
Compensation and Outlook
Median annual wages of dental assistants were $32,380 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $26,980 and $38,960. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $22,270, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $46,150.
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