Demand for dental health care is growing in America, and with it demand for the services of dental assistants. If you are looking for a career in the health care industry, you have an opportunity to earn a good salary doing satisfying work helping people's teeth look and feel better. Not only that, you can earn a good living with just a year or two of training following high school.
What Is a Dental Assistant?
Dental assistants are skilled technicians who perform a range of routine tasks. Their efforts make dentists more efficient by freeing them to concentrate on providing oral health care to patients. Dental assistants typically greet patients and make sure they are comfortable. They keep records and medical histories. They also sterilize instruments and prepare patients for dental procedures. A dental assistant helps the dentist perform procedures on patients, for example, by using the suction hose and handing the dentist instruments. The dental assistant also carries out administrative tasks like scheduling appointments, providing information on oral health and showing patients the correct way to floss or brush teeth.
In some states, dental assistants have an expanded role. They can perform procedures like coronal polishing that improves the appearance of teeth. They may apply fluoride or sealant treatments. Some dental assistants also take impressions of teeth, make temporary crowns and take X-rays.
How to Become a Dental Assistant
Some states require dental assistants to complete a formal training program at a community college or vocational school. In others, there are no training requirements, and some dental assistants receive on-the-job training. Either way, you should take high school courses in anatomy, biology and chemistry. A certification in CPR is also helpful. Dental assistant training usually takes about a year. Some schools offer a two-year program that awards an associate degree. A dental assistant's education includes classes, laboratory work and supervised practice dealing with real patients.
State licensing requirements for dental assistants vary. Some states don't require licenses, while others mandate formal training and an exam. If you want to perform specialized tasks such as infection control, you generally need to be licensed. Information for your state is available through your state board of dental examiners. Other specialized duties may also require a state-issued license or certification from the Dental Assisting National Board. Certification requirements include work experience or completion of an accredited training program, CPR certification and passing an exam.
How Much Do Dental Assistants Make?
The 2016 median salary for dental assistants was $36,940. Median means half of all dental assistants made less than this amount and the other 50 percent made more. The 10 percent of dental assistants earning the least had salaries below $25,460. The 10 percent with the best salaries made more than $52,000. Dental assistants working for governments had the highest salaries, with a median income of $40,040. Those working in dentist's offices had median salaries of $36,920. Dental assistants employed in physician's offices earned a median salary of $34,750.
Job opportunities are expected to grow by 19 percent from 2016 to 2026, which is better than most occupations. Demand for dental services is rising as people become more aware that proper dental care affects their overall health. In addition, Americans are getting older on average, and typically need more dental care as they age.