Becoming a dental assistant is an exciting, fast-paced career choice as you become a valued member of a dental team with comprehensive and varied duties. The duties performed daily by a dental assistant range from state to state and include patient check-in and x-rays, to very entailed procedures including child prophylaxis (cleaning and polishing a child’s temporary or transitional dentition) and seating temporary crowns.
Different Types of Dental Focuses
Different dental offices require their dental assistants to possess specific qualifications, Depending upon their focus, like orthodontics, general dentistry, oral pathology or oral surgery, endodontics, pediatric dentistry, prosthodontics, and periodontics. Each of these seven dental specialties performs very distinct functions:
Orthodontics – An orthodontist specializes in the teeth and jaw’s alignment, utilizing braces, wires, retainers, and other implements.
General Dentistry – General dentistry deals with routine dental exams, teeth cleanings, preventative dentistry, and patient referrals to other specialty dentists if services and procedures do not fall under their field of expertise.
Oral Pathology/Surgery – Oral pathology or oral surgery is a specialty that includes treating teeth and jaw diseases and, at times, work closely with ENT’s (ear, nose, and throat specialists) in instances that require both dental focuses present.
Endodontics – refers to working expressly with issues where the teeth’ nerves are concerned. They are qualified to perform root canals necessary where there is decay surrounding the tooth’s nerve.
Pediatric Dentistry– specializes in transitional/temporary and early permanent dentition care and treatments for children, youth, and early teens.
Prosthodontics – includes repairing the teeth and the jawbone, cosmetic dentistry, or treatments to improve teeth’ appearance as teeth whitening, veneers, dentures, crowns, and bridges.
Periodontics – treating and repairing the gums’ diseases, including the damaged tissue caused.
Requirements to Become A Dental Assistant
There are several paths to becoming a career dental assistant, depending on the state. Most states require a dental assistant to attend an accredited dental assisting program. Accredited programs offered through technical or vocational schools are the best way to prepare for a dental assisting career. Some states require dental assistants to complete a set amount of externship hours, be licensed, registered, or certified.
A Dental Assistant’s Duties
Dental assistants typically spend their day working with dentists as their right hand, passing instruments and materials to the dentist, suctioning saliva, and holding the dental curing light. During the check-in and appointment preparation time, a dental assistant also acts as a patient’s support system by explaining procedures before the dentist takes a seat with the patient. Most dental assistants take x-rays of teeth, process them, and present them to the dentist.
Under the dentist’s supervision, the dental assistant performs lab tasks, including taking impressions. Depending upon the state regulations, a dental assistant performs duties like seating temporary crowns, performing coronal polishes, and applying fluoride, sealants, or topical anesthetics. Typically, a dental assistant’s day includes some front office duties that encompass keeping records of dental treatments, scheduling patient appointments, and working with patients on billing and payment. Finally, if the dental office you work at doesn’t have a set person to sterilize instruments as some larger practices do, then this task falls to the dental assistant as well.
Instruments A Dental Assistant Should Know
Dental assistants must develop an understanding of dental tools. They are responsible for preparing instruments before an exam or procedure and often hand instruments to the dentist.
Here’s an overview of some of commonly used dental instruments:
Mouth Mirror – a device used to retract the lips, cheeks, and tongue or redirect light into the mouth.
Explorers – this device is used to examine teeth for decay, calculus, furcations, and other abnormalities.
Cotton Forceps – utilized in transferring materials in or out of the oral cavity but is most commonly used to grip cotton.
Periodontal Probe– measures the periodontal pocket depth in millimeter increments.
Periodontal Scalers/Curettes – these instruments come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Utilized in removing tartar from the tooth’s surface with its long, narrow tips. Scalers work to remove tartar from above the gum line, and curettes work below the gum line.
Ultrasonic Scaler – a tartar removal tool that creates vibrations that reverberate outside the normal human hearing range.
Extracting Forceps – this instrument is used for the removal of teeth.
Dental Elevator – lifts teeth in their sockets before extraction to prevent trauma to the mouth’s surrounding tissue and other dentition.
Air Water Syringe – this instrument allows a dental assistant to inject air and water into the mouth to rinse away excess materials then dry the oral cavity.
Saliva Ejector – removes excess saliva or water from the oral cavity during dental procedures by sucking out or ejecting the saliva from the mouth.
Burnishers – a rotary tool, that removes scratches and smooths out rough edges after dental restorations.
Dental Drills – used to cut into tooth enamel to remove tooth decay, utilizing various size and shape bits known as burs.
Excavators – these hand instruments, used to cut into teeth and remove the decayed material, come in several types of dental excavators.
The growth in dental assisting shows a link to oral health and preventive dental care. The dental career field is expected to increase in demand as dental practices hire dental assistants to complete routine tasks, allowing dentists and hygienists to work more efficiently. After working in that field, some dental assistants further their education and become hygienists, typically an associate’s program. Start a career today that will still be exciting tomorrow.
Want to start a career that is in demand? Deciding whether you want to 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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For more information about our graduation rates and other important information, please visit our website at www.pcihealth.edu/consumer-information. The Dental Assistant Program is offered at our Richardson Campus.