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Dental Assistants picture    Dental Assistants image

Dental assistants are part of a dental care team and work under the direction of dentists. A dental assistant's job is characterized by a significant variety of tasks, including assisting dentists with various treatment procedures, examining the patient before the dentist, and a large number of other technical tasks. 

Dental Assistant Schools, Training and Licensing

Nearly half (46%) of dental assistants receive most or all of their training on-the-job. The remainder receive formal post-secondary education from either accredited dental assisting programs or accredited vocational/technical educational institutions. Most of these programs are one year or less in duration and lead to a certificate or diploma. The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) accredits more than 260 dental assistant training programs.

Most states have some level of regulation over the duties that dental assistants are allowed to perform. Others require licensure or registration. Licensure or registration may require passing a written and/or practical examination. Over 30 states recognize or require certification from the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). Where not required, Dental assistants may pursue voluntary certification with the DANB. The DANB offers three certifications:

  1. Certified Dental Assistant (CDA), which requires passing the three components of the CDA examination (General Chairside (GC), Infection Control (ICE), and Radiation Health and Safety (RHS))
  2. Certified Orthodontic Assistant (COA), which requires passing the two components of the COA examination (Orthodontic Assisting (OA), and Infection Control (ICE))
  3. Certified Dental Practice Management Administrator (CDPMA), which requires passing either the CDPMA-1 exam, or he CDPMA-2 exam

Dental Assistant Job Characteristics

Dental assistants work in clean and comfortable office settings, often "chairside" working with a dentist. Dental assistants must wear protective clothing and devices (gloves, masks, eyewear) when working with patients during dental procedures to protect both themselves and their patients from infections.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (USDL BLS), approximately half of dental assistants work part time. The other half work an average of 35 to 40 hours a week. The dental assistant job may include work on nights and Saturdays. Many dental assistants work part time in several dental offices or clinics.

Opinions of dentists also support the assumption of strong demand for dental assistants. In an American Dental Association (ADA) survey nearly 46% of dentists found the supply of dental assistants to be inadequate. More than half felt that this shortage was impacting quality of care to patients (Source: 2005 Survey of Dental Practice-Employment of Dental Practice Personnel, ADA).

Resources for Dental Assistants

Major Dental Assistant Employers

The vast majority of dental assistants work in dentist's offices (solo and group practices). Other "traditional" practice areas may include clinics, hospital dental clinics, as well as dental school clinics. According to the ADA, other career opportunities include:

  • Insurance companies to process dental claims
  • Teaching in schools which may require an associate or baccalaureate college degree
  • Sales of dental products

Dental Assistant Terminology

  • ADA - American Dental Association
  • CODA - Commission on Dental Accreditation
  • CDA - Certified Dental Assistant
  • CDPMA - Certified Dental Practice Management Administrator
  • COA - Certified Orthodontic Assistant
  • Dental Radiographs- x-rays
  • DANB - Dental Assisting National Board

Dental Assistants Skills

Below are the skills needed to be dental assistants according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 7 being highest).

   
Skill NameImportanceCompetence
Active Listening3.53.25
Reading Comprehension3.383.25
Speaking3.383.12
Critical Thinking3.123.25
Service Orientation3.123

Dental Assistants Abilities

Below are the abilities needed to be dental assistants according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 7 being highest).

   
Ability NameImportanceCompetence
Oral Comprehension3.884
Near Vision3.753.38
Oral Expression3.753.75
Speech Recognition3.753.25
Written Comprehension3.383.25

Dental Assistants Knowledge

Below are the knowledge areas needed to be dental assistants according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 7 being highest).

   
Knowledge AreaImportanceCompetence
Medicine and Dentistry4.464.29
English Language4.244.11
Customer and Personal Service4.034.63
Education and Training3.363.37
Psychology3.093.32

Dental Assistants Work activities

Below are the work activities involved in being dental assistants according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest).

   
Work ActivityImportanceCompetence
Assisting and Caring for Others4.764.73
Evaluating Information to Determine Compliance with Standards4.544.93
Getting Information4.544.32
Establishing and Maintaining Interpersonal Relationships4.265.01
Updating and Using Relevant Knowledge4.224.54

Dental Assistants Work styles

Below are the work styles involved in being dental assistants according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest).

   
Work StyleImportance
Cooperation4.74
Attention to Detail4.72
Integrity4.71
Dependability4.68
Self Control4.68

Metro Areas Sorted by Total Employment for
Dental Assistants

Listed below are the 10 largest metro areas based on the total number of people employed in Dental Assistants jobs , as of 2017

   
Metro AreaTotal EmploymentAnnual Mean Salary
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim17,010 $36,910
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington9,220 $37,790
Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land7,090 $35,540
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward6,780 $46,620
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell6,400 $38,570
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach6,150 $38,690
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue5,910 $43,950
Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale4,910 $40,840
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario4,830 $34,550
Detroit-Warren-Dearborn4,530 $34,980

Compare Total Employment & Salaries for Dental Assistants

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Total employment and salary for professions similar to dental assistants

Source : 2017 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov; O*NET® 23.1 Database, O*NET OnLine, National Center for O*NET Development, Employment & Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, onetonline.org

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We have some additional detailed pages at the state level for Dental Assistants.

Numbers in parentheses are counts of relevant campus-based schools in the state; online schools may also be available.