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Career Profile: Dental Assistant

Why Is Dental Assistance a Job of Tomorrow?
One in seven adults aged 35 to 44 years has gum disease, and this number increases to one in every four adults in those who are 65 or older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Untreated oral conditions can be detrimental to overall health, as tooth decay and gum disease can lead to severe infection. For this reason, the need for dentists and dental assistants will soar. Employment opportunities for dental assistants are expected to rise 29 percent, a much faster rate than the average for all occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average earnings for dental assistants are about $14.53 per hour.

What Does a Dental Assistant Do?
Dental assistants work under the supervision of dentists. They perform routine duties, such as clerical work, sterilizing dental instruments and ensuring the patient's comfort as the dentist proceeds. An ordinary day in the life of dental assistants sees them placing phone calls to remind patients of their appointments, collecting payments, recording patient information and preparing the dentist's tray with instruments for each visit. During an appointment, the dental assistant sits near the dentist and patient, handing the dentist instruments and using a suction device to keep the patient's mouth clean and dry as the dentist works. They also are responsible for preparing patients for molds and impressions, as well as taking dental X-rays and processing the films. Their varied responsibilities help keep dental offices running efficiently.

What Kind of Training Do I Need to Become a Dental Assistant?
Although some dental assistants learn their trade on the job, most assistants have been trained in dental assisting programs. These programs are available at community and junior colleges, and in some technical schools. A high school diploma is required for admittance into dental assisting programs, and most programs prefer applicants who have a strong background in science and health. The dental assisting courses cover skills related to the profession, biology and chemistry. Most of these programs take about a year to finish. After completion of an accredited program, prospective dental assistants may need to earn a license depending on their state's requirements.