One of the main job responsibilities of dental assistants is the sterilization of dental equipment. You must be able to identify different dental tools and know how to clean and sanitize each one. In addition to sterilization duties, you'll likely prepare work areas, hand dentists tools during patient visits, use hoses and other suction devices during treatments, process X-rays and educate patients on dental hygiene. Some states require dental assistants to complete a one- or two-year program and pass a state exam. Most positions also include on-the job training with sterilization equipment.
Cleanliness is Next to Godliness
Dental assistants must remove all organic and inorganic materials from dental instruments before sterilization. You are required to wear heavy-duty gloves, a face shield and protective coverings. Cleaning and decontamination might involve scrub brushes, detergents, specialized soaps and high-power rinses. You must also operate ultrasonic cleaners for some instrument decontamination procedures.
Sterilization is Risky Business
Assistants must sterilize equipment according to the manufacturer's specifications and the dentist's requirements. Most metal instruments are sterilized with high-heat steam. You must operate steam cleaners safely, without risking burns or personal injury. According to Rutgers School of Dental Medicine, steam cleaners must reach 250 degrees Fahrenheit and instruments should stay in the heated steam for 12 to 30 minutes to kill all bacteria. Dental assistants organize sterilized equipment for re-use. Attention to detail and organizational skills are a plus.
2016 Salary Information for Dental Assistants
Dental assistants earned a median annual salary of $36,940 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, dental assistants earned a 25th percentile salary of $30,410, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $45,170, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 332,000 people were employed in the U.S. as dental assistants.