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What is a Dental Assistant?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (“BLS”), the U.S. Department of Labor’s principal fact- finding agency for the federal government in the field of labor, economics, and statistics that provides data on employment and wages, Dental Assistants have many tasks, including patient care, recordkeeping, and appointment scheduling. Their duties vary by state and by the dentists’ offices in which they work.
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
• Hand instruments to dentists during procedures
• Dry patients’ mouths 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
Dental Assistants often spend much of their day working closely with patients and dentists. For example, Dental Assistants might take a patient’s medical history, blood pressure, and pulse before a procedure; explain what will be done; and talk to patients about oral care. They help dentists during a procedure by passing instruments and holding equipment such as suction hoses, matrix bands, and dental curing lights. Other tasks include preparing the treatment room and making sure that instruments and equipment are sterile. Dental Assistants also may document the procedure that is done and schedule follow up appointments.
Some Dental Assistants are specially trained to take x rays of teeth and the surrounding areas. They place a protective apron over patients’ chest and lap, position the x-ray machine, place the x-ray sensor or film in patients’ mouths, and take the x rays. Afterward, Dental Assistants ensure that the images are clear.
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 temporary crowns.
Each state regulates the scope of practice for Dental Assistants. Some states let Dental Assistants polish teeth to remove stains and plaque from the enamel or apply sealants, fluoride, or topical anesthetic.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Dental Assistants,
How Much Does a Dental Assistant Get Paid?*
According to BLS, the median annual wage for dental assistants was $38,660 in May 2021.
These numbers may vary based on geography and labor market.
*Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Dental Assistants,
Best-paying states for Dental Assistants**
According to the BLS, the states with the highest median annual salaries for dental assistants in 2021 were in Minnesota ($53,080), Massachusetts ($51,210), and Alaska ($50,640).
**Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (“BLS”). Data as of March 2022
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Dental Assistant Job Outlook***
According to BLS, employment of dental assistants is projected to grow 11 percent from 2020 to 2030, faster than the average for all occupations.
About 44,000 openings for dental assistants are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.
***Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Dental Assistants,
Dental Assistant Job Skills and Knowledge
According to O*NET Resource Center, people in this career often have these skills:
• Active Listening – Listening to others, not interrupting, and asking good questions.
• Reading Comprehension – Reading work-related information.
• Speaking – Talking to others.
People in this career often know a lot about:
• Medicine and Dentistry – Knowledge of the information and techniques needed to diagnose and treat human injuries, diseases, and deformities. This includes symptoms, treatment alternatives, drug properties and interactions, and preventive health-care measures.
• Customer and Personal Service – Knowledge of principles and processes for providing customer and personal services. This includes customer needs assessment, meeting quality standards for services, and evaluation of customer satisfaction.
Source: O*NET Resource Center