Dental assistants work in dentist’s offices and help the office run smoothly and efficiently. A dental assistant is an allied health professional who performs various duties, such as preparing patients for treatments, cleaning dental instruments, scheduling appointments, maintaining patient records, or exposing dental x-rays.
The career outlook for dental assistants is very good, as the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that employment of dental assistants will increase 19 percent by 2026. This is much better than the national average growth of seven percent.
So, is dental assisting a good career? This profession certainly has many advantages, although there are also some downsides. Let’s take a closer look.
Pros of Dental Assisting
Going into dental assisting has many benefits. If you want a career with strong job prospects, a pleasant work environment, relatively short training, and career advancement opportunities, dental assisting may be the right choice for you.
The predicted job growth for dental assistants is significantly stronger than the national average. Continuing research regarding the link between oral and overall health keeps driving the demand for preventative dental services. Also, the large baby boomer generation has more of their original teeth than earlier generations, which means that baby boomers need to maintain and treat their teeth. For these reasons, dentists are expected to hire more dental assistants to meet this rising demand for dental care.
Training for dental assisting is much shorter than a typical four-year college education. Certificate programs normally take less than a year, while associate degree programs take two years.
Most students who enroll in allied health career training programs for dental assisting receive a certificate or diploma at the end. Associate degree programs as offered by community colleges are less common.
Delta Technical College’s dental assisting training program can be completed in as little as nine months. This gives graduates the opportunity to start searching for an entry-level position relatively quickly.
Read our article about recommended education options for individuals wanting to enter the field of dental assisting.
Good earning potential
According to the BLS, the median annual wage for dental assistants was $37,630 in May 2017. Pay can increase with experience and/or certifications, among other factors.
Learn more about dental assistant wages from BLS.
Varying job duties
Dental assisting job duties can be quite varied, with no two days looking exactly alike. You may greet patients, take down their information, lead them to the examination room, and prepare them for the exam or treatment. You may also clean dental tools, take dental x-rays, or fit orthopedic supplies. There’s always a lot to do and you likely won’t get bored.
Working with people
If you enjoy working with people, dental assisting may just be the right career choice for you. You are regularly interacting with other members of the dentist’s office as well as with patients. You will meet people from all kinds of different backgrounds.
Nice work environment
A dentist’s office is a calm and quiet workplace. Since it’s a medical facility, the hygiene standards are naturally extremely high. Dental clinics or offices typically don’t get as stressful or messy as some other medical facilities.
Possibility of flexibility
As a dental assistant, you can work either full-time or part-time. Almost one in three dental assistants works part-time. Dental assistants in dental clinics and surgeries usually work set hours, though dental assistants employed by hospitals may have flexible schedules.
Career advancement opportunities
The dental health field offers plenty of career advancement opportunities. You may decide after working as a dental assistant for some time to obtain further training and become a dental hygienist, for example. Moving into more advanced positions can significantly increase your earnings.
Cons of Dental Assisting
Just like any job, dental assisting also has a few drawbacks. However, you can overcome many of these by taking the right precautions or making wise career decisions.
Part of the job of a dental assistant is to clean up patients’ bodily fluids like saliva, blood, or pus. This is probably the least pleasant aspect of being a dental assistant, but if you can handle it or get used to it, you may have a largely enjoyable career to look forward to.
Working near mouths
As you’re assisting a dentist during an exam or procedure, you’re obviously working near the patient’s mouth. This means that you may be exposed to unpleasant odors or intensive dental procedures. You can’t be too squeamish.
Risk for pain
Dental assistants often sit in uncomfortable or difficult positions while caring for patients, which can lead to backaches, headaches, neck pain, or numbness in the arm and wrist. You can prevent this, though, by exercising and stretching sufficiently.
If you want to know more about the career path of a dental assistant, check our guide on how to become a dental assistant.