A Day in the Life of a Dental Assistant

Many students considering a career as a dental assistant wonder what the job might actually entail. They have probably experienced some quality time in the chair themselves, but wonder what it is like to be on the other side of the exam light. 

As it turns out, dental assistants do plenty. Broadly speaking, they help dentists deliver excellent care to their patients, and they do so as efficiently and safely as possible. More specifically, they provide an indispensable extra set of hands in the office and beside the chair.

There is plenty of work to keep a dental assistant busy. He or she may be called upon to educate patients about dental health and hygiene practices or to perform administrative duties. They help prepare patients for treatment and sterilize instruments. They hold suction devices, pass instruments during dental procedures, expose dental x-rays (radiographs), and in some states can make temporary crowns, or take impressions. They serve as infection control officers for the office or clinic and provide for patients’ comfort and reassurance. 

Obviously, by handling all those tasks dental assistants help take pressure off busy dentists, who must often juggle several patients at once. Although categorized as healthcare support personnel by the U.S. Department of Labor, and thus not compensated on a level with dentists, dental assistants can earn a rewarding income while shouldering responsibility for a surprising number of duties. In essence, they are the professionals who help keep dental offices and clinics running smoothly.

General Dentistry

Many dental assistants work in general dentistry practices. These practices focus on routine, family dental care, prevention, and hygiene. A dental assistant in one of these practices would typically assist during routine procedures such as drilling and filling caries lesions, taking impressions for crowns, etc.  

Oral Surgery

In essence, being an oral surgeon assistant involves many of the same skills used by general dentistry assistants. These professionals sterilize surgical equipment, prepare patients for surgery, assist with note-taking and charting, and take and/or process x-rays. They do not perform surgery but may be required to monitor or maintain the flow of any IVs or to take vital signs. 

In some states becoming an oral surgeon assistant may not require advanced training beyond that required to become a dental assistant. But candidates should be well-versed in sterile technique, and typically require on-the-job training. In addition to performing important support duties, they may be called upon to maintain the inventory of necessary supplies, and to handle ordering and restocking.

Tags: Dental Assisting, Career Responsiblities

Kelly Schwab

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