Frequently Asked Questions: Being A Dental Assistant

Frequently Asked Questions: Being A Dental Assistant

Have questions about being a dental assistant?  

If you’re interested in dental assisting, are a student, or a first-year dental assistant, you may have questions about what it’s like being a dental assistant. From what credentials you need to what procedures you can assist or do.

Here are some frequently asked questions (FAQ) about being a dental assistant.

Can you become a dental assistant without formal dental educational training?

Yes, if you have a high school diploma or GED, you can become a dental assistant without formal dental educational training. You can gain experience by working in a dental office as a dental office assistant or clerk. While working at the office, you can learn dental terminology and how the equipment and materials work. Many dental assistants start with on-the-job training. Although most dental offices are looking for individuals with dental education or some expertise in dental care, i.e., clerks receptionist, some offices will train high school students interested in dental assisting. 

Note: Not all states require specific credentials or educational training. Be sure to research state requirements, programs, training, certifications, and connect with individuals in the dental field.

What is the difference between a Certified and Registered Dental Assistant? 

Your title depends on what state you’re in and the credentials needed.  Some states require dental assistants to graduate from an accredited program through the American Dental Association. 

A registered dental assistant has more educational requirements than a certified dental assistant. A registered dental assistant (RDA) must pass a written and clinical examination, including an externship through your dental program, and apply for a state license to practice. Also, most RDA’s complete a dental program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA).

 A certified dental assistant (CDA) must complete a dental assisting program and receive a completion certificate, including clinical-hands-on experience or externship hours. CDA’s are eligible to sit for the CDA certification exam offered by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB).

Note: Check out the Dental Assisting National Board, (DANB) Inc for more information on State Requirements.

What Credentials Do Dental Assistants Need?

Most dental assistants sit for the CDA offered by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB), but credentials depend on state requirements. Assistants are eligible for the exam after completing an accredited assisting program by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. 
Some states also recognize  CDA passage components such as the Radiation Health and Safety examination or Infection Control exam. Although not all dental specialties require CPR certification, it is recommended.

Where Do Dental Assistants Work?

 Dental assistants can work in various work settings, including

  • Private, Group and Community Health dental offices
  • Hospitals
  • Governmental Institutions
  • Insurance companies
  • Educational Institutions
  • Dental manufacturing companies 
  • Military/Armed services

Note: Most dental assistants work full time, occasional evenings and weekends 

What are some dental assistant responsibilities?

  • Clean and sterilize instruments and prepare treatment rooms, materials
  • Provides diagnostic information, including taking and recording vital signs 
  • Educate patients on oral hygiene instructions and dental procedures before and after treatment
  • Maintain patient records of dental procedures
  • Assist Dental staff with oral examinations
  • Schedules patient appointments
  • Work with patients or insurance companies on billing and payments.
  • Develops radiographic images (X-rays)

Are there dental procedures that dental assistants CAN perform?

Dental assistants handle administrative and clinical care, working at the front desk attending to patients, and help dentists in the procedural room during treatments, including taking x-rays. They are supervised by a dentist and assist with specific procedures. Here are four  procedures trained dental assistants can perform:

  • Coronal polishing
    • Removing soft deposits such as plaque from teeth
  • Sealant application
    • Dental assistants paint thin plastic substance over teeth to seal out food particles and keep patients from developing cavities.
  • Fluoride application
    • Assistants apply application on teeth for anticavity.
  • Topical anesthetic application
    • Assistants apply anesthesia to temporarily numb areas for dental procedures.  

Note: Be sure to check your state credential requirements and what procedures you CAN and CANNOT perform.

What are the essential skills a dental assistant needs?

As the “face” of a dental office, dental assistants play a role in patient satisfaction. They are the first, and last person patient sees during their visits.  Dental assistants provide and assist dental staff with patient quality care.  Dental assistants are an asset to dentistry and provide patients and staff with the utmost care and help. 

Here are some essential skills dental assistants need:

  • Interpersonal communication skills- assistants must communicate with patients, dentists, and insurance companies. 
    • Communicating patients’ needs with the dentist results in better patient care and satisfaction, especially for patients who’ve had a negative experience with dental offices before. 
    • Another communication skill that helps is being bilingual. Communicating with patients who speak another language or sign, i.e., ASL can help the patient feel at ease. 
  • Dexterity- Must be good with your hands, using tools and instruments.
  • Organizational skills- Dental assistants must be organized as an administrator; they keep patient records, billings, dental instruments and the office in order.

Note: Looking for ways to improve your soft skills? Check out 4 Ways Dental Assistants Can Improve Their Soft Skills.

Do you have questions or suggestions about being a dental assistant? Let us know in the comments below.
Are you a dental assistant or have experience and are looking for a job? Do you have experience as a dental assistant or hygienist? Create an account here, and we will match your profile when the best job offers in your area.

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About the author

Joycelyn Ghansah

Joycelyn Ghansah is a former Healthcare Organizer with a background public health, include reproductive and sexual health. When she's not freelance writing, she's transcribing interviews and researching ways to strengthen healthcare labor laws.

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