|Number of Jobs:||91,600|
|This Job is Ranked in|
|Best Healthcare Jobs||#18|
|The 100 Best Jobs||#46|
Admit it: You think every scrub-wearing worker in the dentist’s office (who isn’t the dentist) is a dental hygienist. Some of them are; but some of the other professionals performing integral tasks in running the office and facilitating care are dental assistants. And what do they do? They prepare patients for treatments and teeth cleaning, and sterilize instruments. They often assist dentists during procedures by using suction equipment to clear their patients’ mouths. Dental assistants might also process oral X-rays and help with the maintenance of patients’ records. Depending on their licensing and certification, dental assistants might also help with fluoride and sealant applications and polishing teeth and dentures.
According to the Labor Department, there should be more than 91,000 openings for dental assistants up to the year 2020. That amounts to more than 30 percent employment growth, which is much faster than the average for all professions. The need for so many more dental assistants is easy to cipher: A large aging population intensifies the demand for quality healthcare and qualified practitioners.
Pay scale for dental assistants ranges from approximately $23,080 to approximately $47,420. The average assistant earned around $34,000 in 2011. Those with the highest salaries live in the metropolitan areas of Manchester, N.H., San Francisco, and Barnstable Town, in Massachusetts.
The job of dental assistant is one of the few 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 37-year veteran in the field. “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 in terms of training, certification, and licensing to be fully aware of what’s expected before beginning 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 (DANB).
Even dental assistants living in a state that doesn’t require licensure should work to attain one, according to Pohl. Not only will a license distinguish you in terms of experience and knowledge, but 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.”