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If you’re considering working in dental medicine, you can explore multiple options, but an increasingly popular path to take is becoming a dental assistant. It allows you to serve on a purposeful team and play a critical role in dental procedures. However, what happens behind the scenes in this job?

In a typical day, you could be responsible for anything from sterilizing equipment to interviewing patients. These duties take training and unique qualities to make dental offices welcoming, functional medical facilities.

As an in-demand career, becoming a dental assistant is a viable decision, but let’s dive deeper into the day-to-day activities of the job.

What Is a Dental Assistant?

Dental assistants deliver oral health care to patients alongside other dental professionals. They make dental offices productive facilities, and the position takes substantial levels of attention. Their duties are extensive, and in many ways, it’s a people-centered job. There are also technical applications like x-raying and creating dental impressions.

What Does a Typical Day Look Like for a Dental Assistant?

A basic day in the life of a dental assistant starts by greeting a patient and gathering background information. After the patient’s records are complete, the assistant gets them settled into a chair and prepares the room for the dentist.

When the dentist enters, the dental assistant supplies the dentist with instruments and responds to their instructions. After the treatment, dental assistants recommend measures for upkeep and finalize the clerical details. They also oversee the cleaning and safety considerations of the equipment, tools, and accessories.

Dental Assistant Job Duties and Responsibilities

With a sufficient understanding of dental medicine, dental assistants support dentists in the operating, laboratory, and diagnostic imaging settings. So, what does a dental assistant do on a daily basis?

As a dental assistant job description, the following covers the routine you may not see when you walk into your dentist appointment.

1. Dental Radiology

Dental radiology or imaging shows cavities and structural dental issues so dentists can offer solutions and treatment. Because dental assistants develop and take the x-rays, they learn special techniques and adhere to strict safety guidelines. They also prepare the area and monitor several of the steps in the process.

The x-rays have to be readable to proceed with treatment, so assistants aim for precision. They check for diagnostic quality in the images, which means there should be proper alignment and exposure. If they carry out the right x-raying procedure, the first takes are suitable, and retakes are avoided.

Radiology equipment care is a major component for dental assistants. Before the procedure, they arrange and screen the technology to prevent infection, and then they sanitize the surfaces as a follow-up. There are high standards for disinfecting and processing reusable medical equipment, and dental assistants have to be thorough to meet them.

2. Chairside Assistance

Procedures are more efficient when dentists have chairside help from a dental assistant. This may be the first thing you think of when you imagine the duties of a dental assistant because it represents the hands-on part of the job.

As dentists complete their work, assistants pass them the necessary instruments and organize the tool tray. You act as an extension of the dentist in chairside assistance, often predicting the next steps of the dentist in the procedure.

During the procedures, they also maximize visibility in the operative field. As debris surfaces, they quickly clear it out, which promotes comfort for the patient. They periodically ask the patient how they’re doing, too, and guide them through treatment.

3. Clinic Support

Creating and keeping records for an overall informative approach is vital in dental medicine. Dental assistants are involved in the initial and later stages of managing a patient’s file. For instance, they obtain dental records from past dental facilities to get the process started.

Dental assistants find out about medical history, but they also chart results, procedure outcomes, and treatment strategies. To complete records, dental assistants use a computer and become familiar with management software. In light of collected information, dental assistants make necessary adjustments for patients to accommodate their age and condition.

They also can accomplish administrative duties like scheduling and confirming appointments. Afterward, dental assistants fill in patients about what to do for optimal oral health. They’re the front lines for communicating hygiene best practices, including flossing and brushing techniques.

Clerical support is another responsibility of dental assistants, and specifically, they deal with billing and payments. Along the same lines, they’re often in charge of ordering medical supplies.

4. Laboratory Functions

Physical resources for oral health like prosthetics are developed in dental laboratories. Workers handle plastics, porcelains, waxes, and stainless steel in the lab to fashion the necessary objects. Dental assistants can aid with lab functions for cosmetic and restorative appliances.

In dental laboratories, dental assistants can perform valuable duties like creating teeth models. They can attend to patients’ removable appliances, which could mean polishing or fixing, and they are authorized to make temporary crowns and bridges.

Dental assistants frequently take impressions of teeth for study casts, and they pour the material for the imprints. Prosthetic apparatuses call for preliminary impressions, which dental assistants can also form.

5. Operating Responsibilities

The operating room offers plenty of chances for dental assistants to contribute to dental surgeries. Depending on the area they’re working in, they could participate in coronal polishing, sealant application, topical anesthetics application, or fluoride application.

Dispensing and administering certain medications is a common part of the job, but it can take different forms. Distributing cavity-preventive agents over teeth is one duty that helps prolong patients’ teeth.

For dental surgeries like wisdom teeth extraction, sutures need to be removed at a follow-up appointment, and in these scenarios, dental assistants can do it. Although, this minor operating practice is still under the supervision of a dentist.

Work Environment

Dental assistants can work in a public dental office, privately-run facility, or health care office with dental services. A dentist can have a single dental assistant, or they can have several, depending on the size of their practice and specialty area.

Dental offices are sanitary, smooth-functioning settings, and dental assistants maintain orderliness in their environments. The rooms are well-lit with high visibility to accomplish exact examinations and procedures.

Because of the importance of cleanliness in dental care, dental assistants wear protective clothing throughout the day. They also have protective accessories like surgical masks, safety glasses, and gloves.

The majority of dental assistants work full time, but a portion of them do hold part-time positions, too. Occasionally, they work overtime or on weekends, but the hours are set by the type of office they work in. This position also has several growth opportunities, as some dental assistants move into hygienist careers or work towards becoming a dentist.

Necessary Skills for Daily Duties of Dental Assistants

Although education and training equip you to become a skilled dental assistant, some traits and talents can set you up to succeed in this career. If you’re courteous toward people, meticulous, and organized, this could be the ideal job for you.

Due to the range of responsibilities, assistants have to be ready to host patients, pour study cast molds, support in root canals, and type up new appointments all in the course of a day. To find out which skills make this possible, check out the following capabilities of dental assistants.

1. Interpersonal Skills

From the beginning, dental assistants are receptive to the patients, and they continue to interact with them positively in preliminary tasks, procedures, and post-operative activities.

From patient medical history to financial service, the dental assistant accompanies people through their appointment. That’s why building rapport is a major interpersonal advantage for dental assistants when servicing diverse patients.

In treatment or surgeries, patients can become anxious and distressed, but dental assistants are there to calm them. They comfort patients at different stages of procedures, walking them through the operation.

Empathy is a useful characteristic for assistants in these situations. Sensitivity to the patients is instrumental in correctly managing their stress levels.

2. Technical Application

Dental medicine uses standards and rules, and if you become a dental assistant, it’s crucial for you to follow precise instructions and prioritize accuracy. Technical skills come from education, training, and certification, but the application of them takes diligence and a sense of awareness.

A solid grasp of protocols for operations, radiology, and general treatment is necessary, and a detail-oriented mindset is beneficial for remembering each step and catching potential errors.

As you put these technical skills to use, you also practice judgment during preparation and assistance. Your attentiveness can let you spot dangers or complications in the equipment, setup, or sequence early.

3. Clerical Ability

You may think the clerical side of this position is not challenging, but the reason dental assistants perform this duty rather than administrative workers is that the documents and software require dental medicine knowledge.

When assistants carry out office tasks, they should be able to run a computer, type quickly, and control software. The main software program they’ll gain familiarity with is Dentrix, but many offices implement Eaglesoft instead.

Not all people enjoy answering phone calls, but it’s critical to catch onto these office assignments. You might spend the bulk of your day sorting patient records and collecting billing data, which will expand your administrative skill set.

4. Coordination

From brushing particles out of patients’ mouths to aligning x-ray shots, dental assistants are expected to execute coordinated motions every day.

When working in the small space of the mouth, assistants find fine-motor skills are undeniably useful. Dexterity in assistance prevents setbacks, so sufficient control is a key talent of dental assistants.

Hand-eye coordination is equally fundamental because inspecting the mouth and following visual signs is a significant duty.

5. Endurance

To stay alert to the dentists and patients’ needs, assistants have to exhibit endurance. The high levels of focus that they offer throughout the day demands adequate energy.

During procedures and surgeries, your concentration can’t falter, which means you’ll need stamina. As an extension of the dentist, you have to persevere through hours of work.

6. Communication

Communicating is a cornerstone of being a dental assistant, including written and verbal skills. You have to articulate hygiene and maintenance advice to patients clearly, and you must reply to their questions about treatment, billing, and appointments.

Through teamwork with the dentist and other workers, you have to receive feedback and direction to collaborate well.

Confidentiality is a component of communication that’s vital. Dental assistants have to be careful and remain discreet about patient information, which requires cautious communication.

How to Become a Dental Assistant

On the journey to becoming a dental assistant, training and education come before launching into the day-by-day role. In certain cases, training can even be done on-site at dental offices, so it could take up the first weeks of the job. Existing dental assistants can pass on their knowledge about machinery, instruments, procedures, and terminology.

However, dental assistant education typically happens at technical institutes or community colleges. Usually, programs can last for one to two years, if you stay on track with a full load of classes.

Most states require certification for dental assistants to fully engage in their duties. The method for getting accepted certification is through the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). Their exam for becoming a Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) involves three parts — general chairside assisting, radiation health and safety, and infection control.

To be eligible for the exam and licensure, you need a college diploma from an accredited dental assistant program or evidence of high school graduation and experience in a dental office. The experience in a dental office also includes training specifically for the dental assistant position.

Industry Outlook

Because oral health affects overall well being, dental treatment is an ongoing demand in America. Older and younger individuals alike need dental care and counsel. This makes dental assistants integral and the job market promising.

The pay for dental assistants is respectable with the highest 10 percent of dental assistants making over $54,800. Many use this position as a springboard to more lucrative dental positions.

In 2016, as many as 332,000 individuals were working as dental assistants. The substantial interest in the field is enhancing the education process and regular activities, but future advances also appear favorable.

Between 2016 and 2026, employment is predicted to increase by 19 percent. The continual hiring of dental assistants and the rapid growth in dental medicine offer a bright outlook for anyone considering the job.

Study to Be a Dental Assistant at Vista College

Are you interested in beginning your dental assistant education and training? Finding a valuable school is an exciting step toward your career in dental hygiene, and at Vista College, you can join our exceptional dental assistant program.

For over 30 years, we have been providing students with high-quality accredited programs with many at an accelerated pace. You can finish our dental assistant diploma in less than one year, and it gives you access to current industry equipment and knowledgeable instructors.

Start your path to success by learning more about the dental assistant diploma offered at Vista College.


Our Dental Assistant program is offered at our College Station, El Paso, Killeen, Longview, Fort Smith, and Las Cruces campuses as of 5/1/2021.

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