Dental assistants play an important role in every dental practice, working closely with dental hygienists and dentists to treat patients. For many, a career in dental assisting serves as a stepping stone to more highly-skilled and higher-paying jobs, such as a dental hygienist.
If you’re looking for a fast-growing career in healthcare with ample opportunities for advancement, dental assisting could be the right path for you.
What does a dental assistant do?
While the day-to-day responsibilities for dental assistants can vary by state and practice, they are generally responsible for the following:
- Sterilize dental instruments and equipment
- Prepare patients for treatments/procedures
- Educate patients on proper oral hygiene and oral care following dental procedures
- Assist dentists during procedures
- Take and develop x-rays
- Complete lab tasks (i.e. taking impressions of a patient’s teeth)
- Perform office management tasks (i.e. billing and payment)
The working environment for dental assistants can include a dentist’s office, nursing home, school and health departments and more.
How much does a dental assistant make?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary for dental assistants in May 2018 was $38,660, with the highest 10 percent earning more than $54,800.
Minnesota has the highest annual mean wage for dental assistants in the country, due in part to the critical dental assistant shortage in the state. According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, state-wide employment for dental assistants is expected to grow by 8 percent through 2028, adding nearly 7,000 new jobs.
Nationally, employment for dental assistants is expected to grow 11 percent from 2018 to 2028 – faster than the average for all occupations. Due to high demand and the possibility for career advancement, dental assistants ranked among the Best Health Care Support Jobs in America for 2019 by U.S. News & World Report.
5 steps to become a dental assistant
If you’re interested in pursuing a career as a dental assistant, follow these five steps:
1. Build the necessary skillset
Just like any occupation, dental assistants require a certain set of skills to excel in the field. One of those important qualities is interpersonal skills. As a dental assistant, you’ll be working closely not only with dentists, but also with patients who might be in pain and need help navigating the treatment process. Other necessary skills for a career as a dental assistant include good dexterity, organizational skills and meticulous attention to detail. It also helps to have an interest in oral health and helping others.
2. Select the right program for you
There are several paths available to become a dental assistant, and it’s all about what works best for your lifestyle and career goals. With Herzing University-Minneapolis, you can earn dental assisting credentials and work your way toward a dental hygiene career at the same time. Through our unique Dental Pathway, you can start your dental assisting career in as few as 24 months, while you continue to study for your dental hygiene degree.
3. Get hands-on training
Internships are a great way to preview a career as a dental assistant while earning your degree. As an intern, you can gain hands-on experience with all aspects of the job, ranging from office-related skills to clinical practices and radiography. At Herzing, your dental assisting coursework also includes a laboratory component, allowing you to practice clinical tasks, such as teeth cleaning and polishing techniques.
4. Earn state certifications and licenses
Licensing and certification requirements to become a dental assistant vary by state. In Minnesota, for example, you must:
- Obtain and maintain a CPR certification
- Pass the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) exam
- Complete a Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) dental assisting program
- Pass the Minnesota Dental Assistant State Licensure exam
- Pass the Minnesota Jurisprudence exam
- Apply to the Minnesota Board of Dentistry for licensure
5. Work toward an advanced degree
Open the door for career growth and increase your earning potential by pursuing an advanced degree. With a bachelor’s degree, dental assistants can become dental hygienists. Demand for dental hygienists is also strong, with employment expected to grow 11 percent from 2018 to 2028. Hygienists typically earn a higher salary than dental assistants, making an average of $74,820 per year.
At Herzing University’s Minneapolis campus, students can choose from several CODA-accredited programs to help reach their career goals of becoming a dental assistant or a dental hygienist. The campus also offers a low-cost Dental Clinic, allowing dental hygiene students to receive hands-on training while providing basic dental services to patients in need.