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Dental Assistant

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Overall Score
(6.1 out of 10)

Number of Jobs

74,400

Median Salary

$34,500

Unemployment Rate

4.1 percent

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This Job is Ranked in
Best Health Care Jobs #30
The 100 Best Jobs #66

Admit it: You think every scrub-wearing worker in the dentist’s office is either a dentist or dental hygienist. Some of them are, but some of the other professionals performing integral tasks in running the office and facilitating care are actually dental assistants. And what do they do?

The short list of their duties includes preparing patients for treatments and teeth cleanings, plus sterilizing instruments. They also often assist dentists during procedures by using suction equipment to clear patients’ mouths. Dental assistants might also process oral X-rays and help maintain patient records. Depending on their licensing and certification, dental assistants might help with fluoride and sealant applications and polishing teeth and dentures.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there should be more than 74,000 new openings for dental assistants up to the year 2022. That amounts to nearly 24.5 percent employment growth, which is much faster than the average for all professions. There are several reasons for the increased openings, including the fact that current generations take better care of their teeth than their parents and grandparents and regularly visit a dental office. Expanded health insurance coverage has also led to more patients, which should drive the demand for dental assistants in dentists’ offices and outpatient care centers.

Salary

The pay scale for dental assistants ranges from about $23,550 to $47,580. In 2012, the average pay for dental assistants was $35,080 and the median pay was $34,500. Those with the highest salaries live in the metropolitan areas of San Francisco, Nashua, N.H., and Haverhill, Mass.

Salary Range

75th Percentile $41,310
Median $34,500
25th Percentile $28,380

Training

Dental assistant is one of the few jobs we cover that doesn’t necessarily require formal training. But it should, says Claudia Pohl, former president of the American Dental Assistant Association and a veteran in the field with more than 35 years of experience. “The responsibilities of dental assistants are expanding, partially to facilitate more people getting access to care in this country when they can’t afford to visit a dentist,” Pohl says. “It’s not in patients’ best interests to receive treatment from someone who isn’t fully qualified.” Check your state’s requirements to know the training, certification and licensing you’ll need to begin work. An accredited program lasts for one to two years. For certification, a dental assistant must pass the Certified Dental Assistant exam administered by the Dental Assisting National Board.

Working as a dental assistant is also an excellent launching pad to becoming a dental hygienist or dentist. The licensing and training are slightly different for each of those positions, but the experience an assistant receives while working with patients, learning safety procedures and navigating the logistics of a dental office could be particularly beneficial for advancing in the dentistry field.

Reviews & Advice

Even dental assistants living in a state that doesn’t require licensure should work to attain one, according to Pohl. A license will distinguish you in terms of experience and knowledge, and it’s also in the best interest of the patients. “The average person would be appalled if they were to find out the person working in their mouth doesn’t have accreditation, licensing or credentials,” she says.

“If I were hiring a dental assistant, I’d look for someone with some education and the licensure that’s appropriate for their state,” Pohl adds. “I’d also want a worker who was good with people, who is a team player, and who can get along with others and who has an I’m-in-it-to-help-everybody attitude.”

Job Satisfaction

Upward Mobility good High
Stress Level fair Average
Flexibility good Above Average
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Last updated by Jada A. Graves.


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