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Considering Work as a Dental Assistant?

Significant Points

Health care is a modern necessity. Nursing and health care technician jobs are often unglamorous, but have the potential to be vastly rewarding in personal, financial, and intellectual ways, providing interesting challenges and opportunities for enthusiastic people. There are numerous degrees available for different types of work in the medical field. One job that is in high demand in hospitals is for dental assistants.

The job outlook for dental assistants should be very good and dentists are expected to increasingly assign routine tasks to assistants in order to perform more complex procedures. Most programs to become a dental assistant take 1 year or less to complete, with many learning their skills on the job. This could be a good profession for someone looking for part time work.

Nature of Work

Dental assistants work in a variety of situations, both in labs and offices, as well as with patients directly. In addition to instructing patients on oral healthcare and working alongside dentists during patient treatment, assistants also prepare materials for impressions and restorations, process dental x-rays, remove sutures and excess cement from fillings, and increasingly they perform coronal polishing and restorative dentistry functions. Lab work can involve making casts of the teeth and mouth from impressions, cleaning and polishing removable appliances, and making temporary crowns. Office duties include scheduling and confirming appointments, receiving patients, keeping treatment records, sending bills, receiving payments, and ordering dental supplies and materials.

According to 2008 statistics, almost half of dental assistants had a 35- to 40-hour workweek. More than one-third worked part time, or less than 35 hours per week, and many others have variable schedules. Work hours are sometimes scheduled on Saturdays or evenings, but dental assistants are often able to work multiple jobs by working at dental offices that are open on different days or by scheduling their work at a second office around the hours they work at their primary office.

Education and Training, Qualifications, and Advancement

Training as a dental assistant can be obtained through dental-assisting programs in community and junior colleges, trade schools, technical institutes, or the Armed Forces. While most programs take a year or less to complete, many states require assistants to obtain a license or certification to perform more advanced tasks and radiological procedures. However, a few States allow dental assistants to perform any function delegated to them by the dentist.

Dental assistants held about 295,300 jobs in 2008. According to statistics from that year about 93 percent of all jobs for dental assistants were in offices of dentists. A small number of jobs were in the Federal, State, and local governments or in offices of physicians. Job prospects are expected to increase much faster than average because of both population growth, greater retention of natural teeth by middle-aged and older people, and an increased focus on preventative dental care for youngsters. Employment is expected to grow 36 percent from 2008 to 2018, which is much faster than the average for all occupations.

Pay Rate

Median annual wages of dental assistants were $32,380 in May 2008. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $22,270, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $46,150. Benefits vary substantially by practice setting and may not be available to part-time employees. According to a 2008 survey conducted by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB), 86 percent of Certified Dental Assistants (CDA) reported receiving paid vacation from their employers, and more than half of CDAs received health benefits.

Related occupations include dental hygienist, medical assistant, occupational therapist assistant or aide, pharmacy technician or aide, physical therapist assistant or aide, and surgical technologist.

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