This paper is a brief but to some extent a comprehensive look at the field of dental assisting. It begins by looking at the education and training requirements of dental assistants. Here we look at the institutions which offer training in this field and the regulatory bodies which enforce the practice through certain mandatory requirements. The paper also looks at the duties the dental assistants perform as part of their job description. As the name suggests, dental assistants’ main job is to facilitate and create an enabling environment for the dentists to work in.
The salaries and career opportunities of the dental assistants is also discussed. The field of dental assisting provides one of the best career opportunities for non graduates. Besides, the training requirements are not cumbersome and one can acquire skills on the job. The pay is also considerable to support an average lifestyle. The paper then ends by discussing the future of the field of dental assistants by taking a look at the long term scenario of the sector.
Education & Training
Dental assistants normally acquire their skills on the job. However some dental-assisting programs are offered by community and junior colleges, trade schools, technical institutes, or the Armed Forces provide courses that can be undertaken by aspiring dental assistants.
In addition Dental assistants must posses certain essential skills. They must be able to work harmoniously with others and have good manual dexterity. In some states it is a requirement that dental assistants to be licensed or registered. Furthermore they must have passed a written or practical exam. For dental assistants who perform duties which require special skills such as radiological procedures, they must pass the Radiation Health and Safety examination offered by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). In some states, in addition to passing the Radiation Health and Safety examination they may also have to pass a state-approved course in radiology (McKay 2008).
High school students interested in a career as a dental assistant are advised to study biology, chemistry, and health and office practice. With regards to tertiary education, the Commission on Dental Accreditation within the American Dental Association (ADA) has authorized 269 dental-assisting training programs. These programs include classroom, laboratory and preclinical instruction in dental-assisting skills and related theory. Furthermore it is required for the students to gain practical experience in dental schools, clinics, or dental offices. These programs take approximately one year to complete after which one is awarded a certificate or diploma. An associate degree is awarded for two-year programs offered in community and junior colleges. The minimum requirement for these programs is a high school diploma or its equivalent. However there are some institutions which insist on computer studies and sciences in addition to the high school diploma for admission.
The job main duties of a dental assistant include; ensuring that patients are comfortable in the dental chair, preparing patients for treatment and maintaining dental records. Handing dental tools and materials to dentists and keeping patients’ mouths dry and clear by using suction; Sterilizing and disinfecting instruments and equipment, preparing tray setups for dental procedures, and giving advice to patients on postoperative and general oral health care; Preparing materials for making impressions and restorations, exposing radiographs, and processing dental x-ray film with the help of the dentist; Removing sutures, applying anesthetics to gums or cavity-preventive agents to teeth, removing excess cement used in the filling process, and placing rubber dams on the teeth to isolate them for individual treatment (McKay 2008).
Dental assistants on average are paid $13.62 per hour. Their total annual average wage amounts to $31,550. Benefits depend on practice setting and type of employment (part time or full time). According to the American Dental Association, 87 percent of dentists offer reimbursement for continuing education courses taken by their assistants (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2007).
Several career opportunities are open for dental assistants. Dental assistants may become personal assistants to the dentist by managing the dentist’s office affairs. They may also become assistant dental instructors or dental product sales representatives.
Furthering one’s education provides more opportunities. Dental assistants may become dental hygienists if they undertake further studies.
Future of the field of dental assistant
The future looks bright for dental assistants. A consistent increase in the employment growth rate is expected in this sector. It is projected that the growth rate in this sector will exceed the average for all occupations through. Employment in the sector is expected to grow 29 percent from 2006 to 2016. It will be the third fastest growing occupation for which a degree is not required. (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2008/09).
In addition there exists other incentive for that makes the sector one of the best employment opportunities for non graduates. The rapidly increasing population growth, increased retention of natural teeth by middle-aged and older people, better and affordable preventative dental care for young kids will substantially increase the demand for dental services. The above factors will result in an increase in the dentists’ workload forcing them to employ trained dental assistants for routine work like check ups. This will give them time to concentrate on complicated procedures. Furthermore, dental school graduates are breaking from the traditions of older dentists who rarely employed assistants by employing one or two dental assistants.