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How to Become a Dental Assistant.

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Because more adults are retaining their teeth into old age, there is a growing demand for Dental Assistants. Could this well-paid job be right for you?


To be a good Dental Assistant you must be a compassionate and attentive listener. Many patients arrive at the dentist's office tense and afraid. It is the job of the Dental Assistant to make these patients feel cared for and relaxed.

A good Dental Assistant must also enjoy working as part of a team, be well organized, have good manual dexterity, and the ability to move quickly and smoothly from one task to the next.


Dental Assistants work in the same locations as dentists and dental hygienists, that is in dental offices and clinics, hospitals, and health care centers.

Dental Assistants work in clean, well-lit locations and use a variety of safety measures such as gloves, masks and gowns to ensure the safety of both their patients and themselves.

Although most Dental Assistants work a regular seven and a half or eight hour day, they may, as necessities arise, work evenings and weekends.


The duties of a Dental Assistant are many and varied. They are available, as needed, to assist both the dentist and the dental hygienist.

They may greet patients as they arrive, make them comfortable, take relevant information from new patients, update dental records, and make appointments.

Dental Assistants are responsible for the order and cleanliness of the dental office. To do so they clean, and sterilize dental instruments, and arrange them in an orderly fashion so they are instantly available to the working dentist. They are present as the dentist works, handing him needed instruments, and keeping the patients' mouths clean and dry.

Dental Assistants may also order and stock supplies, take and develop x-rays, and take dental impressions.


If you are considering a career as a Dental Assistant, and are still in high school, it would be wise to take such courses as English, biology, anatomy, computer science, and any others related to health care. Discuss your choices with your councilor to ensure that you will be as well prepared as possible for the future education that you will need to become a Dental Assistant.

Inquire about the possibility of 'shadowing' a practicing Dental Assistant. 'Shadowing" would involve following a Dental Assistant as they go about their daily routine. This is the ideal way to decide if a career as a Dental Assistant is one you would enjoy. You can discuss this with your school councilor or even with your family dentist.


After obtaining a high school diploma, there are several routes you may take to become a Dental Assistant. States vary in what they require of their Dental Assistance, so it is vital that you check out your states requirements, before committing to any one route. To find out your states requirements, check with the website for the DENTAL ASSISTANCE NATIONAL BOARD. There you will find the specific requirements for all states.

The first route you may take to become a Dental Assistant, is to take on-the-job training. This would involve working in a regular dental office and being trained either by the dentist or by a dental hygienist. On-the-job training is a quick route to employment, but does have its drawbacks. If you move to another state, the training you have taken may not be considered adequate there. Also, on-the-job training may be limiting if you wish to advance or enter a related field.

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A second route to becoming a Dental Assistant is to take a one year training program that has been accredited by the Commission on Dental Associations. Being accredited means that, in both content and quality, the program meets the highest standards. Such courses are available at dental schools and community colleges, as well as technical and vocational colleges. Completing this training provides the student with a certificate or diploma.

The third route to becoming a Dental Assistant is to obtain an associate degree. Associate degrees typically take two years to complete. Associate degrees for Dental Assistants are available in community colleges, dental colleges, and universities. This is the most difficult option, but as employers are, more and more, choosing the applicants, who are better educated, it is an option well worth considering.


Training programs for Dental Assistants include such subjects as English, anatomy, radiology, pharmacology, virology, first aid, and office administration. They also cover knowledge of materials used in dentistry, and dental procedures. Certification in dental x-ray may also be included, and in some areas it is required. Students receive both classroom and laboratory work, as well as practical experience under the supervision of dental professionals. The two year associate degree course, covers similar subjects but in greater depth. More technical material is included to prepare students for advanced learning.


After graduation from a certified program, students are able to take the Dental Assistant Exam. This exam is administered by the national or state board of dental examiners. There is both a written exam and a clinical exam. When these have been successfully completed, candidates may then apply for a state license, if one is required in your state.

To find out what your state requires for licensing, go to the site of the DENTAL LICENSURE BY STATE MAP. This map provides all the information you need to obtain a license in your specific state.

If you take a non-accredited training program, you may also be able to take the Dental Assistant Exams, but only after you have completed two years of work in a dental office.

I know this all sounds very complicated, and that is why I cannot stress enough how important it is to first ascertain the exact requirements of your specific state.


It always pays to get the best education you can afford. Your circumstance may dictate what path you follow, but remember that the greater your knowledge and skill, the more in demand your services will be.

More education also means a greater opportunity to advance, not only in the field of dentistry but also in research, education, sales and management.


doodlebugs on November 11, 2009:

Good article for those considering a well paying career in the dental field.

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