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The Dental Assistant Guide

The Leading Career Resource for Dental Assistant Jobs.

Welcome to DentalPost’s Dental Assistant Guide

The dental assistant is a healthcare professional whose primary job responsibility is to provide chair-side assistance to the dentist. In addition, you may be called upon to deliver a wide range of services depending on the size of the dental practice and the needs of the dentist. This guide is specifically designed to help answer questions related to how to become a dental assistant, what duties you’ll be required to do, how much you can expect to be paid, what opportunities there are for advancement, and, of course, how to find a job as a dental assistant on DentalPost.

Dental Assistant Knowledge Center


Learn about the training and education, certification, and job description of a dental assistant position.

Job Responsibilities

DentalPost takes a look at what are the duties and responsibilities of a dental assistant.


DentalPost explores the salary and career expectations for a dental assistant.

Guide to Hiring

Looking to hire a dental assistant? Here are a few tips from our trusted experts.

Job Search

Ready to begin your dental assistant job search? No other site offers as many opportunities as DentalPost.


DentalPost explores the benefits, career prospects, and things to consider when choosing a dental assisting school.

Search For Dental Assistant Jobs by State

Click on your state to find Dental Assistant Jobs Near You

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In Canada? Click on your province to find Dental Assistant Jobs Near You.

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Everything You Need To Know About Being a Dental Assistant

Becoming a Dental Assistant

If you are interested in working in a dental office, you should be aware this career path offers you a lot of chances to grow and learn more about dentistry.

Due to the wide variety of your responsibilities, you will be challenged. You will become part of a team responsible for providing the best possible patient care.

Once you graduate from an accredited school and pass any required tests you could have a title like CDA or EFDA.  An EFDA stands for Expanded Functions Dental Assistant. In many states, this will allow you to perform advanced duties over that of other assistants without the certification. Your actual job description will vary based on the practice. You could even work in the front office or as a medical assistant with the proper training.

Dental Assistant Duties

You will have numerous responsibilities as a dental assistant, including scheduling appointments, record keeping, and caring for the patients. Your duties will depend on the state and the dentist’s office. Your responsibilities may include:

  • Keeping the patient comfortable
  • Using patient communication skills
  • Using equipment including suction hoses to dry the patient’s mouth
  • Preparing the patient for different procedures and treatments
  • Completing lab tasks and processing X-rays with the dentist’s direction
  • Handing the correct instrument to the dentist during a procedure
  • Scheduling appointments for patients
  • Sterilize the dental instruments
  • Helping patients with billing and payments
  • Explaining proper oral hygiene to patients
  • Keeping accurate records for every dental treatment

You will spend the majority of your time closely working with the dentist and patients. The dentist may require you to ask patients for their medical history or take a pulse or blood pressure before a procedure.

You will discuss oral care and explain what is involved with the procedure with the patients. You will hold and give the dentist equipment, including curing lights, matrix bands, and suction hoses.

Working in the health service industry also means completing other essential tasks, including making sure all of the equipment and instruments are sterile. Dental assistants are often responsible for documenting procedures.

Once a procedure has been completed, you will schedule an appointment for a follow-up. Some dental assistants receive specialized training to take X-rays. The training may include how you can take images of a specific tooth and the surrounding areas as well.

You will begin by placing a protective type of apron over the chest and lap of your patient. You will then place the X-ray machine into the correct position before inserting the X-ray film or sensor into the mouth of your patient.

You will take the necessary X-rays, then make certain all of the images are clear. Some dental assistants conduct lab tasks under the supervision of the dentist. Dental lab tasks may include preparing the materials for temporary crowns or dental impressions.

The regulations of every state are different for dental assistants. Depending on the state or province where you are working, you may be able to remove plaque and stains from teeth through polishing.

Some states and dentists’ offices will allow you to apply a topical anesthetic, fluoride, or even a dental sealant.

Dental Assistants for Pediatric Dentistry

You may decide to work for a pediatric dentistry practice. This type of dentist specializes in oral care for patients from infancy until their teenage years. Pediatric dentists are qualified to treat the mouth, gums, and teeth of the child as they grow.

Baby teeth start to grow within six months after the child is born. The first set of teeth begin to fall out when the child reaches the age of six or seven. Eventually, these teeth will be replaced with permanent teeth.

You will be responsible for helping provide children with dental care to prevent oral disease and decay. This education can help eliminate complications and pain lasting for the entire life of the child.

You will learn the modern child has a five times greater risk of an infectious oral disease than asthma. You will be working with an experienced pediatric dentist who has completed both dental school and two years of residency.

If you enjoy working with kids, you have the opportunity to become a team member responsible for helping children. You will support the dentist with comprehensive oral care, including health exams for infants.

You will be a part of the risk assessments performed for both the child and the parents. You may help with dental care, such as fluoride treatments and cleaning. You will assist with counseling for childhood habits, including thumb sucking and pacifiers. A pediatric dentist can help correct improper bites and straightens teeth.

An early assessment is vital for the correct oral care of the child. You will help the dentist make repairs to tooth defects and cavities. You will be a crucial part of the dental team addressing numerous conditions linked to oral diseases, includes diabetes, asthma, hyperactivity and attention deficit disorders, congenital heart defects, hay fever, and gum diseases. You will help treat ulcers, mucoceles, periodontal disease, and displaced or fractured teeth.

The Dental Assistant Work Environment

Your work environment will depend on if you are working as a dental assistant, an administrative assistant, in the back office, or the front office. You will most likely be working full-time. You may be required to work some weekends or evenings.

If you are not interested in working 40 hours per week, you can check for a job alert for part-time workers once you have graduated. You will probably be working at a dental practice. Approximately 90 percent of all jobs are in an office.

In 2018 alone, there were roughly 346,000 jobs for dental assistants. Some of these jobs were for the government or a physician’s office. A dentist will supervise your work as your experience grows.

You will be working closely with the dentist(s) and dental hygienist(s) every day as you perform your duties. Dental assistants are required to wear surgical masks, gloves, safety glasses, and protective clothing for the protection of the patients.

You will need to adhere to all of the safety procedures while you are chair-side to decrease any risks to the patient, especially when you are using an X-ray machine.

How to Become a Dental Assistant

You need to be able to be sensitive to the emotions of the patients to become a good assistant. You will be in close contact with people suffering from mental distress or a lot of pain regularly.

You have your choice of a few different paths to become a dental assistant. There are no formal education requirements in some of the states. In those states, you will be trained on the job by the dentist or by other dental assistants.

You will be required by other states to complete an accredited program. Once you graduate, you will have to pass an exam. If this is a requirement of your state, you will find numerous programs offered by schools and community colleges.

You need to make sure the program you choose is accredited. You can find a lot of programs you will be able to complete within approximately one year. Once you graduate, you will receive either a diploma or a certificate.

You will also find two-year programs, although they are less common. This type of program offers you an associate’s degree upon completion. According to the American Dental Association, there are approximately 250 dental training programs available.

The reason an accredited program is so important is that both laboratory and classroom work are included. You will learn all about the areas of the mouth, including the teeth, jaws, and gums.

You will also be taught about the instruments dentists use in addition to receiving supervised practical experience. If you are in high school with an interest in becoming a dental assistant, specific courses are recommended. These courses include chemistry, biology, and anatomy. If your state does not require formal dental education, an experienced dental assistant, dentist, or dental hygienist will teach you what you need to know at the dental practice.

You will be taught how to perform the duties necessary to fulfill your responsibilities, such as how to sterilize equipment, different dental procedures, and the specifics of your job description.

One of the most critical characteristics of dental assisting is your communication skills. Excellent communication is essential for ensuring the smooth operation of the dental office. The other important qualities include:

Listening: As team members, dental assistants need to listen to both the other workers and the patients. You must be able to follow the instructions provided by the dental hygienist and the dentist.

Good listening skills are important for completing your tasks correctly and helping with the treatments of the patients.

Paying Attention to Details: Specific protocols and rules must be followed by dental assistants. This includes the procedures for infection control and the way the dentist expects you to treat the patients.

Interpersonal Skills: Dental assistants and dentists work closely together. Providing proper patient care means you must be considerate with patients afraid to have dental treatment or overly sensitive to pain.

Dexterity: Dental assistants need to be dexterous when using their hands. You will be using precise instruments and tools to work on small and tight areas of your patients.

Organizational Skills: As a dental assistant, your organizational skills need to be excellent. When a dental hygienist or dentist is treating a patient, you need to have the right tools in place.

You will also be responsible for the maintenance of the dentist’s office records and the patient schedules.

Dental Assistant Certifications and Licenses

If you plan on becoming an entry-level assistant, you may not be required to have a license. Some states do require all dental assistants to be certified, registered, and licensed to qualify for both entry and advancement.

You may be working in a state requiring you to pass specific licensing requirements for numerous specialties, including infection control, X-rays, and radiography. You can determine the needs of your state by contacting the Dental Examiners board.

You may be able to expand your duties in some states, such as coronal polishing if you are registered and licensed. Some states will accept DANB certification. You will need to pass an exam to earn your certification.

The requirements for this certification are you must have either a high school diploma with a specific amount of work experience completed or have completed an accredited program. You must also be currently certified for cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

The Average Pay for Dental Assistants

Your pay is dependent on the state you are working in as a certified dental assistant, your job training, your experience, and the dental office. As of 2019, the median annual salary of dental assistants working in the United States was $40,080.

A median wage is defined as 50 percent of all workers earning more, and the other 50 percent earning less. Workers in the lower 10 percent earned an annual salary of approximately $28,000.

Workers in the highest 10 percent earned an annual wage of approximately $57,000. These figures include assistants in the government, dental offices, and physician’s offices.

The expectation is the projected growth rate for dental assistants jobs will increase by 11 percent between 2018 and 2028, a much faster rate than the majority of other occupations.

This figure is based on the link between current research, general health, and oral health. The demand for preventative services in the dental industry is also expected to increase.

Dental assistants will continue to be hired by dentists for the completion of routine tasks to ensure the dentists can improve the efficiency of their offices. As the growth of dental practices continues, more dental assistants are necessary.

One of the reasons for this growth is the aging of the baby boomer generation. This generation has retained more original teeth than any previous one. The maintenance and treatment required are increasing the demand for dental care.

The Most Common Dental Procedures

Dental assistants are involved with a lot of different procedures. Under most circumstances, you will be able to assist the dentist with all of the following procedures.


Bonding is used to repair chipped, discolored, decayed, and fractured teeth in addition to decreasing gaps in between teeth. You will help the dentist mix the resin and add the tints necessary to ensure the resin matches the color of the patient’s teeth.

As the dentist applies the layers of resin, you will be chair-side to help. Watching as the layers harden beneath ultraviolet light is extremely interesting. You will hand the dentist the right tools as the layers are shaped and polished.

Bonding is a common procedure for patients of every age, including children. As the child’s teeth grow, the resin will require replacement.


When a tooth has too much damage or infection, you may be able to help the dentist with the extraction.


The dentist will use braces for the correction of teeth alignment and bite issues. Since teenagers often require braces, your communication skills are essential. Although braces are considered an orthodontic procedure, they are offered by many general dentists as well.

Crowns and Caps:

The dentist will use crowns to fit over misshapen, badly stained, and broken teeth or teeth that have decayed. You may be required to hand the correct tools and supplies to the dentist. You will be there when anesthesia is administered.

You may also be qualified to take the necessary x-rays before the dentist begins the procedure.

Root Canals:

A root canal may be necessary once a tooth becomes abscessed, cracked, injured, or decayed. The dentist often requires help from an assistant to complete this procedure.

Bridges and Implants:

Bridges and implants are often used for the replacement of a missing tooth. As a certified dental assistant, you can help the dentist perform this procedure more efficiently.


Patients will need several appointments for the completion of full dentures. You will schedule the appointments, and assist in any way the dentist requires.

Gum Surgery:

When an infection impacts the jaw bone and gums, it is called gum or periodontal disease. The result is often the loss of both teeth and gum. The stages of this condition are gingivitis and periodontitis. The milder stage is gingivitis and may be reversible. Periodontal disease is often severe. The dentist may need to perform gum surgery to reverse the impact of the disease. Depending on the dentist, a medical assistant is generally required.


One of the most common procedures is dental filling. Your responsibilities will include assisting the dentist throughout the procedure.

Teeth Whitening:

A lot of patients will want to have their teeth whitened due to age or stains from certain foods or drugs. The dentist will require your assistance to ensure all necessary tools are readily available for the procedure.


The majority of dentists will use a sealant to protect teeth from potentially harmful bacteria. You may be required to assist the dentist in the application of the sealant.


Veneers are used for both cosmetic purposes and dental issues. Dental assistants are responsible for scheduling the appointments necessary to complete the procedure.

In addition to handing the dentist the necessary tools, your assistance may also be required to help administer anesthesia.

Why Should I Become a Dental Assistant?

You may be imagining a career as a dental assistant. There are many different reasons why this career has become such a popular choice. You will discover the occupation is hugely fulfilling both professionally and personally.

Both dental hygienists and dentists will rely on your skills, capabilities, and training. You will have the satisfaction of helping the patients remain happy, relaxed, and comfortable.

If you are interested in a dental career in this industry, you should be aware of all the benefits you will receive.

The Importance of Job Security:

Due to the growing demand for dentists, dental assistants have excellent job security. Job security for your future is one of the best benefits of working in the dental industry. Every successful dentist requires competent dental assistants. For this reason, there is a solid future for dental assistants.

In 2016, there were approximately 332,000 individuals employed in the United States as dental assistants. During the next ten years, this number is expected to increase substantially.

Growth Opportunities in Your Career:

When you are employed as a dental assistant, you will be participating in an engaging career. You will have the opportunity to learn all about the field of dentistry and the industry itself.

Once you have gained a little experience, you will understand what is involved with running a successful practice. You will learn about how to care for patients, administrative duties, and so much more.

You can use your experience to start a different career in the healthcare sector. With enough education and training, you will be qualified for many different positions within the industry.

Dental assistants can explore other healthcare careers. You will know what to do to prepare for the career of your choice. If you decide dental assistant jobs are ideal for you, a skilled dental assistant is extremely valuable for any dentist.

Opportunities in the dental field are consistently being expanded. As your responsibilities increase, your career will become even more exciting. You may have the chance to broaden your functionality.

Some states will allow you to apply a sealant, take the final impressions or carve restorations. The dental industry has one of the best growth potentials among numerous different dental careers.

The Increasing Need:

The need for preventative dentistry is always increasing. When you combine this with the increasing population, your skills are needed. In the past, the majority of older adults had lost their teeth.

The opposite is true for modern society because many of the elderly have retained most of their teeth. This adds to the already increasing patient base. You can work for a specialty dentist or a general dentist.

On DentalPost, you will find job postings for dental assistants, endodontists, orthodontists, and oral surgeons. Nearly anywhere you live, your skills as a dental assistant will be in demand.

The Income Potential:

No career will guarantee you a specific income. Despite this, dental assistants earn a good wage. As you spend more time at your job, your experience will increase. The result is usually regular raises. This means all you need to do to increase your income is to continue working a job you enjoy.

The Rewards of Your Position:

One of the best benefits of dental assistants is the opportunity to make sure patients are heard and comfortable. This skill is critical for the communication necessary to ensure the patients are treated correctly.

You will place patients first every single day. The result is a significant pride in your accomplishments. Not only will the patients feel good, but you will feel good as well.

The chances are excellent if you talk to any dental assistant about their career, they will immediately tell you how the patients make them smile. You will hear about how the quality of their life has improved due to their profession.

Knowing you are making a positive difference in the lives of the patients makes for a very satisfying career.

The Relaxed Environment

You will be working in a professional atmosphere. Your work will be dynamic, fast-paced, and rather exciting, and every day will offer you new challenges and opportunities.

You will be working with and learning from a team of hard-working people. You will learn from both dental hygienists and dentists. You will go home every day, knowing you were needed and made a difference.

Final Thoughts

If you have ever seriously considered a career as a dental assistant, there is no better time to enter this industry. You can make a positive difference in the lives of so many people.

A dental career offers you job security, knowledge, new skills, and a salary you can build a good life around. You can start working to achieve your goal and become one of the many successful dental assistants.

DentalPost can help you find the right practice to suit your needs and start your fulfilling career in the dental field.

Ready to begin?