Ashley Wilson
Posted August 5, 2021

Become a dental assistant!

Learn more about how to become a dental assistant, and dive deep into the main requirements of the role.
Ashley Wilson
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Become a dental assistant!
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Jobs in the healthcare sector can be incredibly rewarding and fulfilling work.

Some are more difficult than others to get into, however. Obtaining a medical degree, for example, takes around 10 years.

Becoming a dental assistant is a great way to break into this field with a not quite so study-intensive approach, though you do need to pass examinations to get hired.

Let's take a look at some key dental assistant requirements and the path you can take to become a qualified dental assistant.

What is a dental assistant?

A part of the dental team, a dental assistant helps the dentist deliver oral health care services to patients.

While a dentist tends to perform more specialized tasks (such as dental exams, procedures, and surgeries), a dental assistant plays an important role in preparing the patient for and assisting the dentist with these treatments.

What do dental assistants do?

Dental assistants help with administrative tasks like appointment scheduling and record keeping.

They also assist during procedures by making equipment available to the dentist as requested, developing x-rays, and sterilizing dental equipment after a treatment has been administered.

Dental assistant job responsibilities

The role of the dental assistant is highly valued in a dental practice.

Let’s review some of the most common responsibilities of this role.

Talking with patients

Being a dental assistant requires significant interpersonal skills, as the role involves explaining procedures to patients, answering questions, and educating them on proper brushing and flossing techniques.

Providing assistance to the dentist during treatments

In most cases, when dentists perform procedures like tooth extraction, they’ll have a dental assistant nearby to assist with x-ray development and fluid removal.

Appointment scheduling

Dental assistants are often responsible for scheduling appointments for patients and performing other administrative tasks like updating a patients’ dental records.

Additional duties

Dental assistants are also responsible for a wide variety of other duties in the dental office, such as:

  • Preparation of exam areas

  • Equipment sterilization

  • Cleaning up after a treatment

  • Taking casts and models of teeth

What do you have to study to become a dental assistant?

This depends primarily on the state within which you wish to work.

Some states require that you have taken a dental assisting program and passed an exam. Others don’t. You can check the requirements in your state on the Dental Assisting National Board website.

If your state doesn’t have any specific requirements, you may be able to find work in a dentist’s office in an entry-level assistant’s role.

If you do require licensure, however, there are two paths available.

The first is to become a Registered Dental Assistant (RDA). To become an RDA, you’ll need to study a dental assistant program that is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), such as the RDA course offered by American Medical Technologists (AMT).

The second option is to become a Certified Dental Assistant (CDA), which involves:

What’s the difference between an RDA and a CDA?

Both training programs and qualifications lead to a role as a dental assistant.

The difference here is that the CDA is a national certification, and the RDA is state-specific.

After becoming an RDA, you’ll also be qualified to assist with additional dental procedures, like x-rays.

How to become a dental assistant

The process for becoming a dental assistant is relatively straightforward:

  1. Learn about the role: Do some research to decide if becoming a dental assistant is right for you. You may wish to talk to someone already in the role to learn from their experience.

  2. Complete a course: Determine which certificate program you’d like to take and begin studying.

  3. Secure an externship: During an externship, you’ll shadow someone who is already working as a dental assistant to gain some first-hand experience on day-to-day tasks.

  4. Pass your exam: After your coursework, you’ll need to pass an exam to become an accredited dental assistant.

  5. Start with an internship: A paid internship can be a great stepping stone into the industry, giving you the work experience you need to move into a dental assistant position.

How to find a job as a dental assistant

Most public health jobs, including dental assistant positions, can be found on public job boards.

To get a feel for what dental assistant job listings look like, check out our job board.

What skills do you need to become a dental assistant?

Whether through an approved course or via on-the-job training, you’ll need to learn specific skills such as fluoride application and coronal polishing.

Over and above what you learn during your training, six key attributes make for a great dental assistant.

These include:

  1. Listening and communication skills

  2. Attention to detail

  3. Interpersonal skills

  4. Time management

  5. Dexterity (you’ll need to be good with your hands)

  6. Knowledge of computer systems

Dental assistant salaries and employment rates

The average hourly rate for a full-time dental assistant is $20.34, with the top 10% earning over $29 an hour.

Projected growth in demand for dental assistants looks good, with an expected growth rate of 7%. This is faster than the national average.

The states with the highest number of dental assistants (as a percentage of total jobs) are:

  • California

  • Texas

  • Florida

  • New York

  • Illinois

(Image Source)

Dental assistant interview questions

Are you currently preparing for a dental assistant job interview?

Practice your answers to these frequently asked questions:

  1. What kind of dentistry experience do you have?

  2. How will you ensure you follow HIPAA guidelines as a dental assistant?

  3. Do you have any experience with radiography?

  4. What made you want to get into oral hygiene in the first place?

  5. What did you find most engaging during your dental assistant education?

Dental assistant jobs hiring now

If you’re already a registered or certified dental assistant and you’re ready to start looking for your first role, check out these available positions:

Is a dental assistant role a good fit for you?

Working as a dental assistant can be extremely rewarding, particularly for anybody who thrives on helping others.

Make sure to check out dental assistant jobs in your area!


Are you interested in becoming a dental assistant?

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