A dental assistant is an essential member of a dental care team. The job is quite varied and involves supporting dentists, hygienists and office staff with clinical and administrative work. On a typical day, a dental assistant could be passing surgical tools to the dentist one minute, and organizing patient records the next.
Other duties include scheduling appointments, greeting and seating patients, taking vitals, sterilizing and setting up equipment and taking X-rays. For more detail on what dental assistants do, watch this video.
Dental assistants earn an average of $40,000 annually, and data show there could be more than 23,000 new job openings by 2029. If you're interested in medicine, are a strong communicator and skilled organizer, a career as a dental assistant could be right for you.
You don't need previous experience in the healthcare field to work as a dental assistant, although it certainly helps. There are lots of other jobs that can help you develop the skills you need to excel in this career.
For example, if you've worked in customer service, you know how to approach people and make them feel at ease, which is important when speaking with patients. Experience working as a server gives you a knack for juggling multiple orders at once, enhancing your multitasking skills.
Besides interpersonal skills and multitasking abilities, there are several other skills and traits that are crucial to succeeding as a dental assistant:
Empathy: Patients might feel scared before a procedure or could be struggling with a chronic dental problem. A warm, welcoming manner and kind words can go a long way in alleviating their worries.
Teamwork: Dental assistants work with dentists, administrative staff and receptionists to complete a range of tasks. You'll need to enjoy interacting and collaborating with others regularly.
Communication: Clear and consistent communication with patients, dentists and other office staff is the hallmark of a good dental assistant - you need to impart information when it's needed.
Time management: Dental assistants need to sterilize and set up equipment in time for each dental appointment and pass tools when needed during a procedure, so a good sense of timing is key.
Attention to detail: Sorting patients' medical records and helping them with billing and payment queries is much easier when you have a strong eye for the little details that can make a big difference.
A career as a dental assistant is a great option if you're interested in medicine or health but don't want to personally treat patients or are squeamish about tasks like changing diapers or inserting catheters, which are a mainstay of nursing careers.
Dental assistants get the best of both worlds. On the one hand, directly interacting with patients and helping dentists prepare for their procedures can feel really rewarding. You'll also have some administrative tasks to balance out the medical side of the job, allowing you to leverage your organizational skills.
Adult learners often have unique circumstances that mean they need to work or care for children or other family members while studying to become a dental assistant. That's why MedCerts' online dental assistant certification training comprises expert-led video-based training that you can access from home.
We provide course and study materials, dedicated student success advisors and access to our career center and career coaches for a year after certification completion to help you become a dental assistant. Our comprehensive modules cover subjects from dental anatomy to radiation safety and infection control in the dental setting, with flexible payment plans to help spread the $4,000 tuition cost.
Working as a dental assistant opens up countless future opportunities and pathways, starting with specialization. There are plenty of specialisms within dentistry including pediatrics, endodontics and periodontics. Alternatively, experience as a dental assistant is an excellent stepping stone to becoming a dentist or hygienist.
If you find the dental office isn't the right environment for you, you could opt to become a sales or supply representative for companies that provide dental health products and devices. You could even help train the next generation of dental assistants by becoming a dental assistant instructor.
If you're interested in pursuing this career, take our quick and fun career training readiness quiz to get started.
Jennifer Zabel joined MedCerts as the Senior Allied Health Program Developer in July 2022. Prior to this role, she was the Director of Clinical Administration at ECPI University and a subject matter expert in the development of MedCerts’ Dental Assistant program.
She holds her Associate’s of Science in Dental Hygiene, a Bachelor’s of Science in Health Sciences, and a Master’s of Science in Healthcare Administration. Jennifer is a seasoned dental professional with work experience as a Certified Dental Assistant, Registered Dental Hygienist, Dental Assistant educator, and academic administrator.
In her free time, Jennifer loves long walks on sunny days, sitting by an open window with a good book and a cup of coffee on rainy days. Her best time is spent with her family.