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:
- 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))
- Certified Orthodontic Assistant (COA), which requires passing the two components of the COA examination (Orthodontic Assisting (OA), and Infection Control (ICE))
- 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
- American Association of Dental Examiners (AADE)
- American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA)
- American Dental Education Association (ADEA)
- Academy of General Dentistry (AGD)
- Canadian Dental Assistants Association
- Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), of the American Dental Association
- Contemporary Dental Assisting
- Dental Assisting National Board (DANB)
- Dental Assistants, U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics
- Dental Assistants, Virginia Career VIEW
- State-Specific Dental Assisting Information, Dental Assisting National Board (DANB)
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