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Dental Assistant Careers

You know who that strange person is that actually cleans your teeth, takes the x-rays and fills your mouth full of flouride? Yeah, well that's a dental assistant. While you may be thinking, "isn't that the dentist's job?" typically dentist offices only have one or two dentists in total. And they have a lot more than just one patient.

So that's where the dental assistant comes in. Usually there's no formal education requirements to becoming a dental assistant, but some states require you to pass an exam by graduating from an accredited program.

What Does a Dental Assistant Do

Dental assistants perform many tasks, ranging from patient care and taking x rays to recordkeeping and scheduling appointments. Their duties vary by state and by the dentists’ offices where they work. 

Duties

Dental assistants typically do the following:

  • Ensure that patients are comfortable in the dental chair
  • Prepare patients and the work area for treatments and procedures
  • Sterilize dental instruments
  • Help dentists by handing them instruments during procedures
  • Keep patients’ mouths dry by using suction hoses and other equipment
  • Instruct patients in proper oral hygiene
  • Process x rays and complete lab tasks, under the direction of a dentist
  • Keep records of dental treatments
  • Schedule patient appointments
  • Work with patients on billing and payment

Assistants who perform lab tasks, such as taking impressions of a patient’s teeth, work under the direction of a dentist. They may prepare materials for dental impressions or to create temporary crowns.

All dental assistants complete certain tasks, such as helping dentists with procedures and keeping patient records. Dental assistants are allowed to perform the following procedures in some states:

  • Coronal polishing
  • Sealant application
  • Fluoride application
  • Topical anesthetic application

Coronal polishing, which means removing soft deposits such as plaque, gives teeth a cleaner appearance. In sealant application, a dental assistant paints a thin, plastic substance over teeth that seals out food particles and acid-producing bacteria to keep teeth from developing cavities. Fluoride application, in which fluoride is put directly on the teeth, is another anticavity measure. Some dental assistants may be qualified to apply topical anesthetic to an area of a patient’s mouth, temporarily numbing the area to help prepare a patient for procedures.

Each state regulates the scope of practice for dental assistants.

How To Become a Dental Assistant

There are several possible paths to becoming a dental assistant. Some states require assistants to graduate from an accredited program and pass an exam. In other states, there are no formal educational requirements.

Education

Some states require dental assistants to graduate from an accredited program and pass an exam. Most programs are offered by community colleges, although they also may be offered by vocational or technical schools. Most programs take about 1 year to complete and lead to a certificate or diploma. Programs that last 2 years are less common and lead to an associate’s degree. The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), part of the American Dental Association, accredited nearly 300 dental assisting training programs in 2015.

Accredited programs include classroom and laboratory work in which students learn about teeth, gums, jaws, and other areas that dentists work on and the instruments that dentists use. These programs also include supervised practical experience.

High school students interested in a career as a dental assistant should take courses in biology, chemistry, and anatomy.

Training

Dental assistants who do not have formal education in dental assisting may learn their duties through on-the-job training. A dental assistant or dentist in the office teaches the new assistant dental terminology, the names of the instruments, how to complete daily tasks, how to interact with patients, and other activities necessary to help keep the dental office running smoothly.

Important Qualities

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 complete in the state where 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.

Interpersonal skills. Dental assistants must work closely with dentists and patients. Sometimes, patients are in extreme pain and/or mental stress, so the assistant should be sensitive to their emotions.

Listening skills. Dental assistants should be able to listen to patients and other healthcare workers. They need to follow directions from a dentist or dental hygienist, so they can help treat patients and do tasks, such as taking an x ray.

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.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Some states require dental assistants to be licensed, registered, or certified. In other states, there are no formal requirements to become an entry-level dental assistant.

States that allow assistants to perform expanded duties, such as coronal polishing, require that they be licensed, registered, or hold certifications from the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). To earn certification from DANB, applicants must pass an exam. The educational requirements for DANB certification are that dental assistants must either have graduated from an accredited program or have a high school diploma and complete the required amount of work experience. Applicants also must have current certification in CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).

In addition, many states require assistants to meet specific education or training requirements in order to work with radiography (x ray) equipment. Requirements vary by state. Contact state boards of dentistry for specific requirements.

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Average Salary
$38,832
Average Salary
Job Growth Rate
11%
Job Growth Rate
Job Openings
10,425
Job Openings

Dental Assistant Career Paths

Top Careers Before Dental Assistant

Cashier
17.1 %

Top Careers After Dental Assistant

Cashier
8.4 %

What is the right job for my career path?

Tell us your goals and we'll match you with the rights job to get there.

Average Salary for a Dental Assistant

Dental Assistants in America make an average salary of $38,832 per year or $19 per hour. The top 10 percent makes over $52,000 per year, while the bottom 10 percent under $28,000 per year.
Average Salary
$38,832

Best Paying Cities

City
ascdesc
Average Salarydesc
Anchorage, AK
Salary Range42k - 50k$46k$46,249
Portland, OR
Salary Range37k - 53k$45k$44,672
Boston, MA
Salary Range35k - 52k$44k$43,589
Minneapolis, MN
Salary Range35k - 52k$44k$43,522
Washington, DC
Salary Range35k - 52k$43k$42,898
Lawrence, NJ
Salary Range34k - 51k$43k$42,609
$30k
$53k

Recently Added Salaries

Job TitleCompanyascdescCompanyascdescStart DateascdescSalaryascdesc
Dental Assistant
Dental Assistant
Surfin Smiles Kids Dental Care
Surfin Smiles Kids Dental Care
01/31/2021
01/31/2021
$33,39201/31/2021
$33,392
Hero Practice Services
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Dental Assistant
Hero Practice Services
Hero Practice Services
01/29/2021
01/29/2021
$25,56601/29/2021
$25,566
Dental Assistant
Gentle Dental Capitol Hill
Gentle Dental Capitol Hill
01/29/2021
01/29/2021
$45,91401/29/2021
$45,914
Scottsdale Dental
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Scottsdale Dental
Scottsdale Dental
01/29/2021
01/29/2021
$27,13101/29/2021
$27,131
Hero Practice Services
Specialty Services Dental Assistant
Specialty Services Dental Assistant
Hero Practice Services
Hero Practice Services
01/29/2021
01/29/2021
$37,56601/29/2021
$37,566
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Dental Assistant Resumes

Designing and figuring out what to include on your resume can be tough, not to mention time-consuming. That's why we put together a guide that is designed to help you craft the perfect resume for becoming a Dental Assistant. If you're needing extra inspiration, take a look through our selection of templates that are specific to your job.

Learn How To Write a Dental Assistant Resume

At Zippia, we went through countless Dental Assistant resumes and compiled some information about how best to optimize them. Here are some suggestions based on what we found, divided by the individual sections of the resume itself.

View Detailed Information

Dental Assistant Demographics

Gender

female

83.1 %

male

13.1 %

unknown

3.8 %

Ethnicity

White

58.8 %

Hispanic or Latino

22.8 %

Black or African American

9.1 %

Foreign Languages Spoken

Spanish

60.8 %

Polish

10.8 %

Russian

3.6 %
See More Demographics

Dental Assistant Education

Majors

Nursing
4.6 %

Degrees

Certificate

22.5 %

Associate

21.5 %

High School Diploma

18.4 %
See More Education Info
Job type you want
Full Time
Part Time
Internship
Temporary

Top Skills For a Dental Assistant

The skills section on your resume can be almost as important as the experience section, so you want it to be an accurate portrayal of what you can do. Luckily, we've found all of the skills you'll need so even if you don't have these skills yet, you know what you need to work on. Out of all the resumes we looked through, 13.5% of dental assistants listed dental procedures on their resume, but soft skills such as detail oriented and dexterity are important as well.

Best States For a Dental Assistant

Some places are better than others when it comes to starting a career as a dental assistant. The best states for people in this position are Rhode Island, Alaska, Delaware, and Oregon. Dental assistants make the most in Rhode Island with an average salary of $46,477. Whereas in Alaska and Delaware, they would average $46,178 and $45,276, respectively. While dental assistants would only make an average of $44,583 in Oregon, you would still make more there than in the rest of the country. We determined these as the best states based on job availability and pay. By finding the median salary, cost of living, and using the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Location Quotient, we narrowed down our list of states to these four.

1. Minnesota

Total Dental Assistant Jobs:
321
Highest 10% Earn:
$62,000
Location Quotient:
1.26
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

2. Oregon

Total Dental Assistant Jobs:
186
Highest 10% Earn:
$63,000
Location Quotient:
1.17
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

3. Alaska

Total Dental Assistant Jobs:
36
Highest 10% Earn:
$54,000
Location Quotient:
1.12
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here
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Top Dental Assistant Employers

1. Aspen Dental Management
3.9
Avg. Salary: 
$39,459
Dental Assistants Hired: 
1,133+
2. KOOL Smiles
3.6
Avg. Salary: 
$38,397
Dental Assistants Hired: 
671+
3. Western Dental Services
4.4
Avg. Salary: 
$39,491
Dental Assistants Hired: 
568+
4. United States Army
4.0
Avg. Salary: 
$37,550
Dental Assistants Hired: 
454+
5. American Dental Group
4.3
Avg. Salary: 
$38,517
Dental Assistants Hired: 
444+
6. United States Navy
3.8
Avg. Salary: 
$36,974
Dental Assistants Hired: 
337+

Dental Assistant Videos

Updated October 2, 2020