Dental AssistantDentists supervise dental assistants who are responsible for laboratory, office, and patient care duties.
Dental assistants and dental hygienists have different responsibilities. Dental hygienists are licensed to carry out different clinical duties. Dental assistants sterilize dental tools and equipment, collect the equipment and tools required to treat each patient, and retrieve patients' dental records. They prepare patients for dental treatment by making sure they are comfortable in the dental chair, and during dental treatments, dental assistants hand instruments to the dentist and use suction equipment to keep patients' mouths dry. Dental assistants also teach patients about postoperative and all purpose dental care.
Dental assistants may prepare materials for impressions and restorations, administer dental x-rays, and under the supervision of a dentist, analyze x-rays. Dental assistants remove sutures, put rubber dams on teeth for individualized tooth treatment, remove excess cavity filing cement, and apply cavity prevention substances to teeth as well as topical anesthetics to gums. In some states, dental assistants with the proper training are permitted to perform coronal polishing and restorative dentistry duties.
Dental assistants working in laboratories create teeth and mouth casts from impressions, clean and polish removable dental aids, and create temporary crowns. Assistants with administrative responsibilities schedule appointments, greet patients, maintain dental records, send bills, process payments, and order supplies.
Work environment. Dental assistants work in well lit, clean offices. They usually work near the dental chair so they can organize and hand tools to the dentist. Dental assistants must guard themselves from infectious diseases by wearing protective clothing, as well as following safety protocols when operating x-ray machines.
Nearly 50 percent of dental assistants work 35-40 hour weeks. The rest usually work flexible, part-time schedules. Some assistants work nights and weekends, depending on their office's hours. Certain dental assistants work at several dental clinics.
Education and Training
Assistants occasionally complete on-the-job training, but most complete formal training programs at vocational and technical schools, community colleges, and military bases. It typically takes a year to finish a program. Many schools offer associate’s degree programs in dental assisting. To be admitted into a program, students are required to hold a high school degree, and certain programs require prior completion of computer science courses. Numerous privately owned vocational schools administer 4-6 month dental assisting programs, but these programs are not recognized by the Commission on Dental Accreditation.
Many states have licensing requirements for assistants who perform advanced dental care functions and take x-rays.
Job growth for dental assistants is projected to increase at an above average rate, so job opportunities should be plentiful for these specialists.
Job growth is estimated to increase by 36 percent through 2018, an above average rate compared to other industries. Growth for these specialists will be spurred by demand for preventative dental care, population growth, and increasing amounts of older patients retaining natural teeth. It’s also estimated that dentist jobs will be filled by new dentists who rely heavily on dental assistants. Likewise, as dentists increase their clientele, it’s projected that they’ll hire extra assistants to administer routine tasks, so they can perform more complicated treatments.
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