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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Is dental assisting the right career for me?

January 2, 2018

SJVC dental assistant students training in classroom

Are you interested in becoming a dental assistant? This post examines some of the duties and responsibilities you may encounter if you become a dental assistant.

We’ll cover information regarding:

  • What dental assistants do on the job
  • Where dental assistants work and how much they reportedly make
  • The skills and characteristics needed to be a successful dental assistant
  • Dental assistant certification (benefits and requirements)
  • How to become a dental assistant

Let’s jump in!

Why should I become a dental assistant?

According to U.S News & World Report, dental assisting is ranked within the top 25 best health care support jobs in the United States, based on factors such as median salary, future job prospects, and more.

Are dental assistants in demand?

Dental assisting is a career that’s in high demand and is expected to grow over the next decade. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), “employment of dental assistants is projected to grow 19 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. Ongoing research linking oral health and general health will continue to increase the demand for preventive dental services. As dental practices grow, more dental assistants will be needed.”

What can dental assistants make?

The BLS also reports that the median annual salary for dental assistants in the U.S. was $36,940 in May 2016. The BLS report for dental assistants in the state of California is even more promising. California has the highest employment level for dental assistants in the entire U.S., and the annual mean wage was $39,150 for California dental assistants.

According to the American Dental Association, a career in dental assisting offers a number of career advantages, including:

  • Variety: A challenging but rewarding career, dental assisting demands versatility and being able to take responsibility for many different tasks.
  • Flexibility: With dental assistants being high in demand, there are options for both full-time and part-time positions that offer flexibility.
  • Excellent working conditions: Most dental offices are set in pleasant and people-orientated environments, and this allows for excellent work conditions.
  • Personal satisfaction: Dental assisting also requires face-to-face interactions with people. These interactions help give dental assistants a sense of personal satisfaction because they’ve provided important healthcare services.

What do dental assistants do?

Dental assistants perform many tasks, which can range from taking X-rays, recordkeeping, patient care and scheduling patient appointments.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, dental assistants’ responsibilities typically include:

  • Meeting patients when they come in for an appointment
  • Ensuring that patients are comfortable in the dental chair
  • Preparing patients and the work area for procedures and treatments
  • Taking patients’ blood pressure and pulse, and reviewing their medical history
  • Handing instruments to the dentist during procedures and treatments
  • Teaching patients proper oral hygiene
  • Processing X-rays and completing lab tasks as directed by a dentist
  • Keeping records of dental treatments
  • Scheduling appointments for patients

Where do dental assistants work?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2016, 91 percent of dental assistants, 2 percent were employed by the government, and 2 percent were employed by the offices of physicians.

Is dental assisting right for me?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are several important qualities that dental assistants must possess. These include:

  • Detail-oriented: Dental assistants must follow specific rules and protocols (such as infection control procedures) when helping dentists treat patients. Assistants also must be aware of what tasks they are allowed to do in the state in which they work.
  • Dexterity: Dental assistants must be good at working with their hands. They generally work in tight quarters on a small part of the body, using very precise tools and instruments.
  • Good interpersonal skills: Dental assistants must work closely with dentists and patients. Sometimes patients are in extreme pain and/or mental distress, so the assistant should be sensitive to their emotions
  • Listening skills: Dental assistants must listen to patients and other healthcare workers. They need to follow directions from a dentist, so they can help treat patients and do tasks.
  • Organizational skills: Dental assistants should have excellent organizational skills. They should have the correct tools in place for a dentist or dental hygienist to use when treating a patient.

Dental Assistants greatly increase a dentist’s efficiency in the delivery of quality oral healthcare and are valuable members of the dental care team. If you have strong communication skills, enjoy working with your hands and want a career with responsibility, dental assisting could be right for you.

Do I need to be certified to work as a dental assistant?

Even though there are no formal educational requirements in California to become a dental assistant, it is recommended that you be certified as this can open up more opportunities. Plus, some employers may require it.

According to the Dental Board of California, dental assistants who choose to become certified must take the Registered Dental Assistant (RDA) practical examination and a written examination. You must also take the Registered Dental Assistant (RDA) Law & Ethics examination.

How to become a dental assistant

If a career as a dental assistant interests you, here are the steps you can take to become one:

First, enroll in an accredited dental assistant program. According to the American Dental Association, dental assistants can receive their formal education through academic programs at community colleges, vocational schools, technical institutes, universities or dental schools. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) accredited nearly 300 dental assisting programs in 2017. Graduates of these programs usually receive certificates.

Once dental assistant students have completed their accredited dental assisting program, they become eligible to take the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) exam. For people who have been trained on the job or graduated from non-accredited programs, they’re eligible to take the national certification examination after they complete two years of full-time work experience as dental assistants.

According to the Dental Board of California, you must pass the Registered Dental Assistant (RDA) written and practical exam as well as the state written exam in law and ethics and then apply for licensure as an RDA to the Dental Board of California. This must all be done after you graduate from a California Board-approved RDA educational program or after you complete 15 months of work experience as a dental assistant.

SJVC’s Dental Assistant program is approved by the Department of Consumer Affairs – Dental Board of California. Our program trains students in all aspects of working with a dentist, including patient care, and office and laboratory duties. SJVC’s Dental Assistant students can earn a certificate of completion in approximately 10 months. The program is offered at five different SJVC campuses throughout California. Our graduates earn certifications in CPR, Infection Control, HIPAA, Dental Radiation Safety, Coronal Polish and Pit & Fissure Sealant. Once completed, graduates are immediately eligible to take the Dental Board of California Examination for State Licensure as a Registered Dental Assistant (RDA).

Request more information or call 866-544-7898 to learn more about SJVC’s Dental Assisting program.


Learn More About A Career In Dental Assisting

Are you interested in dentistry and passionate about helping people? Then a dental assistant career could be for you. Dental assistants work in dental offices under the supervision of dentists. They have excellent interpersonal, organizational and listening skills.

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