Dental assistants are in demand, and opportunities are expanding. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for dental assistants are expected to grow by 19% from 2016 to 2026 as the growing population of Baby Boomers learns more about the value of oral health. What exactly does a dental assistant do, and what kind of training is required? It’s easy to get started. Here’s a closer look.
What Does a Dental Assistant Do?
Dental assistants are versatile support professionals. They work closely with dentists and dental hygienists, performing a wide range of clinical and administrative tasks. The role is regulated, in part, by state rules. Responsibilities will vary according to location, but administrative duties typically include scheduling appointments, welcoming patients, ordering supplies, filling out insurance forms, caring for tools and dental equipment, updating medical records, preparing treatment rooms, taking blood pressure, performing or assisting with X-rays, assisting in the lab, providing chairside support, and educating patients.
With an understanding of the clinical aspects of dentistry, a dental assistant is the perfect staff person to schedule complex procedures.
Visits to the dentist can be stressful for some patients. A dental assistant has the right blend of clerical and clinic know-how to answer questions confidently and make patients feel more comfortable.
Depending on the size of the practice, a dental assistant may work in an office, a laboratory, a treatment room, or all three. Because of their familiarity with each department’s specific needs, they are often responsible for ordering the supplies for an entire practice.
Filling Out Insurance Forms
Most insurance forms require at least some clinical expertise to fill out appropriately. Dental assistants help to ensure that claims are correct and complete before submission, and they may also have a role in billing.
Caring for Tools and Dental Equipment
Dental assistants sanitize all tools for patient safety. They clean, test and keep detailed maintenance logs on both routine and emergency dental equipment.
Updating Medical Records
Dental procedures can be complicated, and the emphasis is always on safety first. Before any exam, dental assistants review changes in medical history with patients, update allergy and medication lists, as well as document new diagnoses, symptoms and specific concerns.
Preparing Treatment Rooms
A well-prepared treatment room saves both the dentist’s and the patient’s time. Before a client arrives, a dental assistant arranges the tools and medications necessary for the visit and then cleans and restocks rooms between each patient visit.
Taking Blood Pressure
The dentist uses blood pressure readings to choose the best local anesthetic for procedures such as fillings. Dental assistants are responsible for taking the measurement and informing the dentist of any irregularities.
Performing or Assisting with X-rays
Dental assistants are trained to take and develop X-rays, but in some states, this role is limited by regulation. Certification in radiological safety may be required.
Assisting in the Lab
In clinics with a lab, a dental assistant may clean and polish removable appliances like dentures and bridges. They can also assist with making impressions and orthodontic appliances, such as retainers.
Providing Chairside Support
Dentists and hygienists rarely perform procedures alone. Dental assistants serve as an extra pair of skilled hands by assisting during treatments, passing the necessary tools and equipment, documenting data for the dentist and in some cases, monitoring anesthesia.
A large part of a dental assistant’s job is to help educate patients. From reviewing basic dental care techniques and pre/post procedure instructions to explaining the role of smoking and nutrition in oral health, a dental assistant is often a patient’s go-to source for information both over the phone and at the office.
How to Become a Dental Assistant
Dental assistants have a significant degree of responsibility, and employers prefer to hire trained assistants with proven skills. The good news is that in as little as nine months, students can graduate from a vocational school and be employment ready.
All that is needed to enroll in a program is a high-school diploma or equivalent plus CPR certification. What do dental assistants learn in school? Training programs include classes in:
- Dental terminology
- Anatomy and physiology
- Business office procedures
- Dental practice management software
- Customer service techniques
- Basics of dental care
- Laboratory procedures
- Infection control and equipment maintenance
- X-ray techniques
- Hands-on dental assisting
- Emergency management
In addition to time in the classroom, students also learn off-site, working side-by-side with veteran dental assistants during supervised clinical experiences.
Graduating qualifies students for entry-level jobs, and in most cases, to take one of five optional certification exams offered by the Dental Assisting National Board. Where certification isn’t required, pursuing it demonstrates both skill and commitment, and it can help new dental assistants qualify for more advanced positions.
Many vocational schools have a Career Services department. These departments often assist with writing resumes and provide access to school job boards. They may also partner with local oral care professionals to ensure that the training they offer is meeting the needs of local employers.
Becoming a dental assistant is among the fastest and easiest ways to launch a rewarding career in healthcare. In as little as nine months, students may be out of the classroom and ready to become a dental assistant. Opportunities are waiting, so why not get started today?
Did learning about how easy it is to become a dental assistant interest you? Still deciding whether you want to become a dental assistant? Ready to learn more about a program that will help you become a dental assistant? The Dental Assistant Program prepares a graduate to work as an entry-level Dental Assistant, Dental Receptionist, Office Manager or Dental Hygienist Assistant in a dental office, specialty practice, or dental clinic. PCI Health Training Center Richardson, TX Campus offers a dental assistant program. Contact PCI Health Training Center for more information on how to become a dental assistant and start a rewarding career today.
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