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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. 

Learn more about what a Dental Assistant does

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.

Dental Assistant Career Paths

Average Salary for a Dental Assistant

Dental Assistants in America make an average salary of $39,946 per year or $19 per hour. The top 10 percent makes over $53,000 per year, while the bottom 10 percent under $29,000 per year.
Average Dental Assistant Salary
$39,946 Yearly
$19.20 hourly
$29,000
10 %
$39,000
Median
$53,000
90 %

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Dental Assistant Education

Dental Assistant Majors

Dental Assistant Degrees

Associate

22.7 %

Bachelors

20.3 %

High School Diploma

18.3 %

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.

Choose From 10+ Customizable Dental Assistant Resume templates

Zippia allows you to choose from different easy-to-use Dental Assistant templates, and provides you with expert advice. Using the templates, you can rest assured that the structure and format of your Dental Assistant resume is top notch. Choose a template with the colors, fonts & text sizes that are appropriate for your industry.

Dental Assistant Resume
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Dental Assistant Demographics

Dental Assistant Gender Distribution

Female
Female
89%
Male
Male
12%

After extensive research and analysis, Zippia's data science team found that:

  • Among dental assistants, 88.5% of them are women, while 11.5% are men.

  • The most common race/ethnicity among dental assistants is White, which makes up 55.3% of all dental assistants.

  • The most common foreign language among dental assistants is Spanish at 60.8%.

Online Courses For Dental Assistant That You May Like

Advertising Disclosure  The courses listed below are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the course, we may receive a commission.
Introduction to Dental Medicine
coursera

The mouth is the window into human health. This course provides an overview of dental medicine to engage, educate, excite and assist you in improving the oral health of your patients and members of your community. We will review topics in dental medicine including scope of the field, what to expect in function, and some of the many ways that dysfunction may present for different patients. This will include discussions of mouth, jaw, and tooth anatomy, pathology, and treatment. We will talk about...

Implant Dentistry
coursera

Implant Dentistry is one of the most dynamic and rapidly developing areas within oral health care. In spite of increasing popularity of implantology, it is a relatively new discipline within dental education and remains limited to post-graduate courses offered by dental schools in many parts of the world today. With the vision to help dental practitioners gain clinical understanding of implantology and an opportunity to provide implant treatments to their patients, the Faculty of Dentistry of HK...

Digital Biomaterials
edX (Global)

Learn from a dynamic team of 25 dental practitioners and researchers across 10 dental specialties from around the world led by HKU’s Professor Jukka P. Matinlinna and Dr James K.H. Tsoi. In this 4-Week-4-Module course, Digital Biomaterials, you will not only learn the special properties of novel biomaterials in oral health care, but you will be introduced to the crucial and dramatic roles of digital dentistry in contemporary oral health care. New technology development and breakthroughs in...

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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 Hawaii, Alaska, Massachusetts, and Vermont. Dental assistants make the most in Hawaii with an average salary of $48,632. Whereas in Alaska and Massachusetts, they would average $48,328 and $48,012, respectively. While dental assistants would only make an average of $46,452 in Vermont, 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:
$60,000
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:
$60,000
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. Massachusetts

Total Dental Assistant Jobs:
307
Highest 10% Earn:
$64,000
Location Quotient:
0.87 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
Full List Of Best States For Dental Assistants

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Top Dental Assistant Employers

Most Common Employers For Dental Assistant

Rank  Company  Average Salary  Hourly Rate  Job Openings  
1Dr. Dental$39,946$19.20538
2SmileDirectClub$39,946$19.20380
3Familia Dental$39,946$19.20282
4Great Expressions Dental Centers$39,946$19.20240
5Dental Associates$39,946$19.20190
6Western Dental$37,851$18.20452
7Heartland Dental$37,768$18.16189
8US Air Conditioning Distributors$37,646$18.10250
9DRS$37,620$18.09180
10Pacific Dental Services$37,577$18.07181

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Becoming a Dental Assistant FAQs

How long does it take to become a Dental Assistant?

It takes 2 years of professional experience to become a dental assistant. That is the time it takes to learn specific dental assistant skills, but does not account for time spent in formal education.

Do dental assistants get paid well?

Yes, dental assistants get paid well. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the 2020 annual average salary for dental assistants at just over $40,000.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the 2020 average annual salary for all medical assistants at just over $35,000. So, dental assistants get paid, on average, more than their industry counterparts.

Is becoming a dental assistant easy?

Yes, becoming a dental assistant is fairly easy. Though, educational requirements and increased competition make it harder than it used to be.

It used to be common to start work as a dental assistant straight out of high school. While this is still possible, it is no longer the norm.

Is being a dental assistant a stressful job?

No, being a dental assistant is not a stressful job. The job of a dental assistant can be fast-paced and requires multitasking, but it is overall not very difficult or stressful. A 2020 U.S. News report rated the stress of being a dental assistant as average.

Is it good to be a dental assistant?

Yes, it can be good to be a dental assistant. Reports of job satisfaction vary greatly across the profession. Dental assistants working in smaller practices with higher pay report the highest levels of job satisfaction.

What are the steps to becoming a dental assistant?

The steps to becoming a dental assistant vary, depending on state requirements.

In states without educational requirements, the steps are:

  1. Receive a high school diploma or equivalent.

  2. Pass a licensing exam.

  3. Start work as a dental assistant.

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