Dentistry is a great field for those who want to make a lot of money while sticking their fingers in other people's' mouths, with the only barrier for entry being the amount of school it takes to get to the point that people trust you to do so. But unlike dentistry itself, Dental Assisting has a much lower level of education required, allowing for anyone with the know-how and inclination to start working in the dental field without having to give up as much time to their schooling.
The Dental Assisting Major is fairly straightforward, as majors go, as it tends to lead directly to a job as a dental assistant. However, the job market is rarely so black-and-white, and many who have completed the major remain unaware of the way that the soft skills they learned while completing their major might help them find a job where they least expected to.
Well, that's where we come in. We literally created a map, just for Dental Assisting Majors such as yourself, to navigate your way through the choppy waters of recent graduation.
Feel free to focus on the map alone -- it's pretty cool, if we do say so ourselves. But for those of you who prefer step by step navigation on your path, keep reading. We'll give you the rundown on:
First thing's first: what skills you'll need to get started.
In order for dental assistants to carry out duties like ensuring patient comfort, preparing patients for treatment, and keeping dental instruments ready for use, a number of both hard and soft skills are required of them. They have to have excellent organizational skills and an attention to detail in order to keep delicate equipment in order, assist with paperwork, and assist with difficult procedures like X-raying patients.
They also need excellent bedside manner and interpersonal skills, as its likely that the assistants will end up having more interaction with patients than the dentists will themselves. Dental Assistants need to be able to put on a good face and, above all, ensure the comfort and safety of the patients that come through their doors.
Let's take a closer look at what some of these Dental Assisting skills look like:
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.
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.
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.
Internships are an excellent way to start accumulating experience in any discipline, gaining valuable resume cache while also helping you start your network of industry contacts.
Invariably, dental assistant internships are found with dental offices themselves, as dental services are highly specialized and rarely offered outside of these.
Dental Assisting interns help working dentists by working the front desk, providing patient information to dentists, preparing and sterilizing dental instruments, ordering supplies, and other office management-related tasks.
Before you settle on an internship or placement, though, you'll want to make sure it's the right fit for you. Ask yourself these questions:
Most jobs for Dental Assisting Majors are related to dental or medical work in some capacity, often in support roles rather than as dentists themselves. In order to become a general dentist, however, you'll need to go to dental school and become licensed. Even for those without dental school aspirations, the options for dental support staff are wide and varied.
With our map, you can click the Job Titles and learn more specific information for each position (what their responsibilities are, how much they get paid, etc.) But here, we wanted to call out some of the most common jobs for recent Dental Assisting Major grads.
Here are a few of the most interesting jobs for recent grads such as yourself:
Unsurprisingly one of the top jobs for Dental Assisting Majors, Dental Assistants work with licensed dentists by preparing dental equipment for use, preparing patients for procedures, and ensuring that patients are comfortable.
Dental Technicians partner with dentists to design and fabricate prosthetics and other dental equipment for medical procedures.
Dental Hygiene Professors teach the practice of dental hygiene to students, typically educating students on a variety of related topics such as head and neck anatomy, nutrition, and medical ethics, among others.
Get Your Foot in the Door However You Can
The job market is extremely tough out there, and if you live in a small town, it can be especially tough to find a dental practice willing to give you a shot when you're still fresh out of school. Some Dental Assistant Majors assume that their base salary will be somewhat high, but its not uncommon for dental offices to only have unpaid internships on offer -- if they're offering any positions at all.
It's important in this case to consider your own situation. If you can find any way to afford taking either an unpaid or underpaid position at a dental office, it might be worth it to you in the long run. Getting your foot in the door is extremely important in an industry like this, where jobs are scarce and trained help is more plentiful than trained dentists.
So get the job first and spend a few weeks proving you know what you're doing. Then, after a reasonable amount of time has passed, talk with your boss about improving your pay (or about paying you in the first place, as the case may be).
Develop Communication Skills
One of the biggest parts of your job as a Dental Assistant will be interacting with patients, so it's important that you're an excellent communicator.
Many people who come through dental offices may be uncomfortable with the procedure; they might be children, or even just adults who are anxious about dental work being done to them. Part of your job is to put them at ease and make them feel comfortable.
For this, you're going to have to learn a little bedside manner. Joke with the patients; carry around lollypops for kids (sugarfree, of course). And whatever you do, try your best to avoid being curt with patients or taking out any of your frustrations on them. They're already in a state of discomfort, and it's important to remember that at the end of the day you're doing them a world of good. So be kind, and be empathetic.
Obtaining a graduate degree in your course of study can serve as an excellent way to separate you from the herd - but you must first decide whether it's worth your time.
Typically, a Dental Assistant requires a much lower degree of education than a dentist. Dental Assistants need either a certificate, which takes a significantly smaller amount of time to get (often shorter than a year), or an Associate's degree, which are typically two-year programs. The requirements vary by state, but often a four-year college degree is not even a prerequisite to becoming a dental assistant.
If you would like to become certified as a Dental Assistant, you can take the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA), which is offered by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). The test has over three hundred questions covering a variety of subjects that a dental assistant would need to know, including radiation safety and controlling infections.
If you're still not sure what to do with your degree here are some external sites, to help you with your decision:
The largest American dental association, the ADA offers education and training to its members as well as an official Seal of Acceptance that it hands out to oral health products that meet the right conditions.
The AGD is a professional organization that offers continuing education and caters its membership services to general dentists in particular.
Enter "Dental Assisting" into the search bar and you can get a sense of what kind of government jobs are available to Visual and Performing Arts Majors. Find a job title you like and come back here to learn more about it.
The BLS offers detailed data on pay, location, and availability of different kinds of jobs across the country.
In fact, we draw a lot of our research on the best places for jobs from the information provided on the site.
And if this all seems like a lot - don't worry - the hard part (getting your degree!) is already over.