Dental Staffing

Dental Assistants: Tasks, Skills, Opportunities and Salaries

Edited 2021

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the employment rate for dental assistants is expected to grow 11% until 2028. Are you thinking about a career in Dental Assisting? Or have you completed your studies and you’re new to the industry? If so, congratulations!! Dental assisting can be a fun and rewarding career path for you with many options to grow professionally. But what exactly is a dental assistant and what does the work entail?

Dental Assistant Job Description and Tasks

Dentist assistants are professionals who work alongside dentists to assist in patient care. Their tasks are broad and varied depending on the practice and/or position for which they’ve been hired. Tasks can include:

  • chairside assistance
  • taking radiographs (x-rays),
  • turning rooms (breaking down, disinfecting, and setting up rooms/operatories for the next procedure)
  • documentation of patient care
  • sterilization (including spore testing)
  • coronal polish (polishing the tooth structure that can be seen above the gumline)
  • patient education
  • temporary fabrication (following tooth preparation)
  • take impressions
  • lab procedures
  • ordering supplies
  • monitoring patients under sedation for treatment

The experienced Dental Assistant can be invaluable for filling in at the front desk and this is called a “front to back” Dental Assistant. This type of assistant knows enough about dentistry that he or she can easily answer phones, schedule appointments, and answer basic questions regarding treatment. They can easily triage emergencies and communicate important information to the Dentist for more cohesive patient care.

More and more states are expanding the duties of the Dental Assistant. For example, there are Certified Orthodontic Dental Assistants. If you’ve ever had orthodontic treatment (braces), you’ve certainly met one of these talented individuals. There are also Sealant Certified Dental Assistants; these Assistants seal pits and fissures on adult teeth to help prevent tooth decay.

We did tell you that the opportunity for growth in this career is excellent. Dental offices usually employ more than one Dental Assistant and there are many business settings in dentistry beyond the solo general practice, they include, but may not be limited to:

  • group practices: a multi-doctor practice that may or may not include specialists
  • specialty practices such as: oral and maxillofacial surgery, periodontics, endodontics, orthodontics, prosthodontics, pedodontics, public health and the new specialty: oral and maxillofacial radiology
  • dental hygiene practices: some states allow dental hygienists to have their own practices
  • denturists: some states have lab technicians who own their practice; they fabricate dentures and partials

Career Growth Beyond Clinical Dentistry

With some experience on your resume, there are many positions suited for the Dental Assistant outside of the clinical aspect. Most Dental Office Managers have several years of experience in clinical dentistry. That experience is what makes them unique for managing a dental practice.

You can work as a Dental Assistant at insurance companies reviewing and processing  insurance claims. You can also work with vocational schools and technical institutes as a teacher training Dental Assisting students.

Skills and Training Requirements

The training required to become a Dental Assistant varies state by state. Some states require assistants to enroll in an accredited program, complete an externship, and pass an exam. Other states require no education and, those individuals learn through on-the-job training. Most states require dental assistants to acquire and keep a current CPR certification and be trained in their office for emergency procedures.

Soft Skills

While technical skills are a priority to be a dentist’s assistant, you must also hone your soft skills. These are the people skills such as: communication, listening and empathetic skills. No matter what, a positive attitude is always number one. It doesn’t matter how many issues are going on behind the scene, your attitude can be the one reason they keep coming back. Really.


Salaries vary from state to state and from county to county within each state. According to Payscale the average entry-level Dental Assistant makes 13.69/hour. Someone with over a year of experience can expect around $16.37/hour, while those with more than 4 years of work experience but less than 10 years can earn up to $18.99/hour. Highly experienced Dental Assistants earn anywhere from $20-22/hour and there are exceptions who make as much as $24-26/hour.

Are you ready to embark on your new career?

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“The Early Bird Gets the Worm”
- A Complete Collection of English Proverbs by John Ray, 17th Century